May 14, 2014 11:14am PT by Eriq Gardner
Former Warner Music Interns Allowed to Put Out Class Action Notice
The ex-interns suing Warner Music over unpaid positions have been given the green light to alert more than 3,000 others who might wish to join a class action lawsuit.
The action is being spearheaded by attorneys at Virginia & Ambinder and Leeds Brown. The lead plaintiff is Kyle Grant, who interned at WMG subsidiary Warner Bros. Records from August 2012 to April 2013. A student at the time, Grant says he typically worked five days a week, from 9:30 am until 8 pm, and performed the kind of routine office tasks that might have been handled by paid employees. Like others suing entertainment companies, he's contending that the internship program violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The plaintiffs' lawyers have pushed for certification as well as a notice to send out to other interns.
Warner Music responded by doubting the commonality of the plaintiffs, saying that the plaintiffs' right to compensation would turn on whether each of the plaintiffs was properly classified as employees under the FLSA or fall within "trainee" exceptions. It's a defense that worked for Hearst in response to claims from interns working at Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, but not so well for Fox Entertainment Group in a separate class action. Both of those cases are now on appeal at the 2nd Circuit, and will likely impact the massive amount of internship litigation, including the one filed by Grant on behalf of himself and others similarly situated.
In the meantime, the interns suing Warner Music want to advance to the next stage, and so U.S. district judge Paul Gardephe got the opportunity to weigh in on a motion for a class notice. In his opinion on Tuesday, the judge rules narrowly, carefully noting that he's not addressing the merits of the claims and for the purposes of deciding whether a notice should be sent out, there's a low standard.
Nevertheless, the interns hear welcoming news from the judge that could provide a reason for optimism as the case proceeds. "Plaintiffs have made out a facie case of a common FLSA violation," writes the judge. "Plaintiffs allege that they performed the same work-as non-exempt employees in their respective departments, and that they received no compensation or academic credit for their work. Plaintiffs have also submitted documentary evidence that supports their claims, including internship position postings that uniformly state, 'Every Intern is assigned a special project that will both assist them in increasing their understanding of how each department operates, and aid the department in addressing a business need.' The evidence offered by Plaintiffs is sufficient to meet the 'low' standard of proof for court-authorized notice."
As this lawsuit proceeds, the legality of internships is getting feisty at the appeals court. Recently in the Fox appeal, amicus briefs were lodged by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Not everyone is waiting around to hear the outcome. On Tuesday, a class action filed by former unpaid interns at Elite Model Management announced a settlement -- the largest to date over the issue of internships. According to the terms, participating interns have been guaranteed a minimum payment of $700 up to $1750 for their time worked at Elite, one of the nation’s most prestigious modeling agencies. In total, Elite is paying $450,000 to approximately 150 interns.