The unpaid intern problem hits a major federal court. And…

Over the past year, I’ve noted a number of stories concerning the unpaid intern problem and lawsuits that subsequently emerged from these particular abuses of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Shamefully, a lot of these interns were unpaid by relatively rich and successful people and/or their companies.

Now some of these cases have reached the Second Circuit, the federal appellate court in lower Manhattan. The story in the New York Law Journal begins:

 A panel of judges in Manhattan is poised to hear two appeals this week stemming from a rash of employment class actions brought by disgruntled unpaid interns. The outcome could determine whether the litigation was just a flash in the pan for the interns’ enterprising lawyers—or if it’s just getting started.

On Friday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is set to hear oral arguments in unpaid intern cases brought against Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. and The Hearst Corp. The appeals, which will be heard in tandem, offer the court a chance to answer a critical question at the heart of the intern cases: Do unpaid interns qualify as employees under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, entitling them to protections like minimum wages and overtime pay?

In the Fox case, brought by former interns on the movie “Black Swan,” U.S. District Judge William Pauley III in Manhattan granted class and collective status to the interns, finding that they deserved minimum wages. Another Manhattan federal judge, Harold Baer Jr., denied summary judgment to the Hearst plaintiffs, who had interned at various magazines, ruling that a jury should decide whether they qualified as employees.

UPDATE 2/2/15. The New York Law Journal covered the arguments on this lawsuit. The article — Judges Grapple With Test Under FLSA for Interns | New York Law Journal. — is an excellent view of the nuances in legal arguments.

It will perhaps frustrate people who see lawsuits as fairly pre-determined: there’s right and there’s wrong and that’s it. If an argument gets to judges, they should figure out what’s right.

But the word “grapple” in the headline will give you an inkling of the prospects for that point of view. Here are intelligent people — judges and lawyers — confronting the Constitution and its historical accumulation of tens of thousands of parts.

Why might interns not be logically considered “employees?” Read the article.

UPDATE 2/3/2015. This brief abstract from the New York Law Journal:

Warner Music Settles as Intern Fight Goes to 2nd Circuit

David Bario, The Litigation Daily

Meanwhile, new lawsuits on behalf of unpaid interns just keep coming.

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