Sony, Columbia Records Next in Line for Internship Lawsuit

And the intern lawsuits continue.

The latest targets? Sony and Columbia Records, hit Tuesday with a class-action lawsuit by a former intern who claims she -- and more than 500 other interns -- were unfairly unpaid.

The complaint by Britt’ni Fields, filed in New York Supreme Court, is similar to those of many interns nationwide since Federal Judge William Pauley’s landmark June ruling in favor of former Fox Searchlight interns who claimed the production company violated overtime and minimum wage laws. The decision has triggered a deluge of recent lawsuits by unpaid interns, the defendants including NBCUniversal, Conde Nast and Gawker.

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But Fields’ suit most closely resembles the two other intern lawsuits currently targeting the music industry -- one filed by Justin Henry and another by Kyle Grant, both against their former employers Warner Music and Atlantic Records. Both are class-action suits -- Henry’s for 100 individuals and Grant’s for 1,000 -- and both plaintiffs are represented by Virginia & Ambinder and Leeds Brown, which also represent Fields.

The suit bears similarity particularly to Henry’s: They both sued pursuant to New York Labor Law (as opposed to the Fair Labor Standards Act) due to its lengthy six-year statute of limitations. Henry worked at Atlantic between October 2007 and May 2008, while Fields interned in summer 2008.

Fields’s workday, she claims, was spent answering phones, making copies, sending mail and “other similar duties” that “did not provide academic or vocational training” to her or others in her proposed class. Columbia benefited from her work and “would have hired additional employees or required staff to work additional hours” had Fields and other unpaid interns not been hired.

That made her an employee and entitled to compensation, she argues, according to New York labor laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act. For a position to be an unpaid internship, the legal criteria include that “the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern” and “the intern does not displace regular employees.”

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She is suing to receive wages for her internship hours, plus punitive damages for Sony and Columbia’s failure to pay those wages initially. Unlike many litigating interns, her three-day workweek did not exceed 40 hours, so she has not sued for overtime compensation.

Most of these new intern cases -- including the litigations against Gawker and NBCUniversal -- are class-action suits, but these proposals face an uncertain future. In a victory for interns, Judge Pauley’s ruling also certified a class-action lawsuit brought by a former intern against Fox Entertainment Group. Yet, a month before, a federal judge denied class status to some 3,000 fashion magazine interns in a lawsuit against publishing giant Hearst.

“The relatively small recoveries available to individual plaintiffs make a class action a more efficient mechanism," Pauley wrote, and others have argued that the paltry damages will make fighting for individual interns undesirable to lawyers.

Representatives from Sony declined to comment.

Twitter: @asiegemundbroka

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