From today’s Publisher’s Lunch:
The spate of lawsuits against entertainment and media companies alleging unfair labor practices with respect to interns paid less than minimum wage has arrived in book publishing: The same law firms that recently filed suit against CBS (among others) brought a new suit against the company’s publishing division Simon & Schuster last Friday in a New York Court, seeking class action status.
The named plaintiff is Diana Bruk, currently a viral content manager at Hearst, whose work as an editorial intern at Scribner between September 2009 and May 2010, while she was in college, is at issue in the 10-page complaint. Her lawyers Lloyd Ambinder of Virginia & Ambinder, and Jeffrey K. Brown & Michael Tompkins of Leeds Brown Law allege that “upon information and belief, beginning in January 2009 and continuing through the present, Simon & Schuster has maintained a policy and practice of wrongfully classifying the Named Plaintiff and other similarly situated employees as exempt from minimum wage” while also “failing to provide compensation at the statutory minimum wage rate for all hours worked.” (After the initial 2013 case favoring Fox Searchlight interns, most media companies either started paying their interns salaries, enhanced the educational component of internships, or cancelled such programs entirely.) The suit says the size of the class is “believed to be in excess of 50 individuals” (which would be modest by the standards of suits brought against companies such as Conde Nast, which settled). Simon & Schuster declined to comment on the suit.
Bruk alleges her duties at Scribner “did not provide academic or vocational training,” but rather she was asked to “perform various tasks, including, but not limited to, photocopying, printing press releases, stapling, and other administrative duties” while working approximately two days a week (or 20 hours) without pay. She seeks appropriate minimum wage compensation and restitution for the failure to compensate her for her internship “in an amount to be determined at trial, plus interest, attorneys’ fees and costs, pursuant to the cited New York Labor Law and regulatory provisions.”
While a number of cases were adjudicated in Federal court, the law firms in this case have been suing in New York State courts recently, including a suit filed in December against IMG, now owned by William Morris Endeavor. (ICM settled an intern lawsuit in December, brought by a different law firm.) There is some legal uncertainty over these cases that went before a Second Circuit Court of Appeals just recently; a month before the Fox Searchlight case favoring interns, a different judge in the same circuit, Judge Harold Baer, came to a different conclusion in a limited, preliminary ruling favoring Hearst in their intern lawsuit (though other forces, including the US Department of Labor, have sided with those interns). For those cases that are not settled, the Appeals Court should provide further clarity.
As for Virginia & Ambinder and Leeds Brown Law, at least some of their many suits have run into obstacles. Two separate judges took issue last year with their late demands for jury trials in suits against Warner Music and Viacom. And in an earlier CBS-related suit, brought against David Letterman’s production company Worldwide Pants last September, lead plaintiff Mallory Musallam withdraw the complaint just a week after it was filed, fired the lawyers, and issued a public apology to Letterman and the company. Musallam she had been “approached by a beguiling legion of lawsuit-hungry attorneys who saw my Late Show internship on LinkedIn (which I had proudly displayed as a flagship of achievement)” and was “hastily coerced into a lawsuit masked in equivocal language and ambiguous pretenses.”