NBCUniversal Settles With Unpaid Interns for $6.4 Million
On Thursday, October 23, 2014, NBCUniversal agreed to pay $6.4 million to settle claims that it violated labor laws over its unpaid internship program. NBCUniversal’s decision to settle is pivotal because it marks a huge step toward eliminating unpaid internship programs completely.
The lawsuit against NBCUniversal began when Monet Eliastam, the lead plaintiff of the lawsuit, interned at Saturday Night Live for 25 hours per week or more and did not receive compensation. She and other unpaid interns filed a class-action lawsuit and sued NBCUniversal. Elisastam claimed, according to the Hollywood Reporter, that NBCUniversal “misclassified its workers as unpaid interns and thus denied them benefits like a minimum wage salary, overtime pay, social security contributions, and unemployment insurance.”
The Hollywood Reporter further reports that a United States District Court will have to approve the settlement, but if it stands, $1.18 million of the total $6.4 million will go to plaintiffs’ attorneys, Elliastam will receive a $10,000 service payment, and five other plaintiffs will receive service payments of $5,000 and $2,000 rewards. The rest will go to NBCUniversal interns, and the average settlement payment to interns will be $505 for those who interned in New York since July 3, 2007, in California since February 4, 2010, and in other states since February 4, 2011.
Unpaid interns have filed cases against Fox, Sony, Warner Brothers, and Viacom, and companies like Conde Nast have also settled unpaid internship cases. Unpaid internship cases are thus becoming the norm, which it should be.
As a law student, I have had my fair share of unpaid internships. One summer, I worked 35-40 hours per week at an entertainment company and did not receive a dime. Instead, I received credit and had to take an externship class. On the surface, that may not seem terrible because I got to apply three more credits to my total needed to graduate. However, I had to pay a few thousand dollars to take the externship class because the minimum amount of credits that my loan would pay for was six, and my externship class was only three.
It doesn’t take much to realize how unfair that is. Not only did I give the company free labor, but I was out a few thousand dollars in order to get that free labor. Where is the logic in that? There is none. The unpaid internship system is designed to take total advantage of students just so the student can put that company’s name on his or her resume. The school makes money, and the company gets free labor.
Even for students who take internships or externships during the school year and do not have the student loans issue that I did, no one wants to take a class in addition to interning. Especially in law school, students are so busy that externship classes take a back seat to a student’s more substantive school work, internships, law journals, and/or moot court.
Moreover, the entertainment companies exist in, not surprisingly, the most expensive cities in the country. Students can’t live on unpaid internships — not when your average lunch in New York City, for example, is around $10 or more. It’s simply not feasible. Yes, you can argue that students can live on student loans, but that misses the point. Students want to be compensated for their work and be valued as integral employees. It’s as simple as that.
Fortunately, companies are starting to pay interns because companies do not want to be victims, which has been echoed to me in several legal internship interviews.
Hopefully interns will finally begin to get paid for their work across the board, and students will not have to experience what I and millions of other students have.
Joseph Perry (@jperry325) is a 3L at St. John’s University whose goal is to become a publishing and media law attorney. He has interned at William Morris Endeavor, Rodale, Inc., Columbia University Press, and is currently interning at Hachette Book Group and volunteering at the Media Law Resource Center, which has given him insight into the legal aspects of the publishing and media industries.
Featured image courtesy of [Knot via Flickr]