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Viacom is about to become the latest media giant to stage an exit from the messy litigation over unpaid internships. On New Year’s Eve, attorneys informed a New York federal judge that the company had come to a deal in principle to settle a class action lawsuit challenging whether its old intern program violated minimum wage and other labor laws.
Terms of the settlement haven’t yet been disclosed, but following the deals made in recent months for ex-interns at NBCU, Conde Nast and ICM, the tentative agreement signals another turning of the page on a tradition once seen as untouchable. The significance of the latest settlement goes beyond money: By reaching peace with Viacom, the plaintiffs have scored a mini cultural milestone. Viacom is owner of MTV, a bastion of youth culture.
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against Viacom was Casey O’Jeda, who was an unpaid intern at MTV from September 2011 to January 2012, working on the network’s mobile website. Since the lawsuit was filed, more than 300 other individuals gave their consent to join the collective action against Viacom.
In April, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman granted conditional class certification in this lawsuit and gave a green light to issue a notice to those covered by the litigation. The judge wrote that for certification purposes, attorney Lloyd Ambinder had offered sufficient generalized proof that plaintiffs were “victims of a common policy to replace paid workers with unpaid interns.”
Viacom could have challenged the ruling as Fox will be doing soon at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. But Viacom has already made the corporate decision to pay all the interns at its various divisions.
Although the parties now tell the judge there are a number of material terms that remain to be reconciled, the deal in principle has progressed far enough that the attorneys involved are asking for a magistrate judge to assist the parties in effectuating the settlement.
The overall monetary value of the deal will be revealed in a future court filing — the proposed settlement will need to be approved by the judge — but it will likely cover all interns who worked at Viacom after August, 2010 or three years prior to when the lawsuit was filed. The Hollywood Reporter will provide more information when it becomes available.
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