12:52pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Judge OKs Bigger Lawsuit Over Fox's Intern Programs (Exclusive)
A New York federal judge is allowing a class-action lawsuit targeting internship programs at Fox Entertainment Group to grow.
The original lawsuit, filed last August, involved two interns who worked on Fox Searchlight's Black Swan and claimed that the company's unpaid internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws.
But as The Hollywood Reporter reported this summer, during pre-trial discovery, the attorneys at Outten & Golden began looking to add new named plaintiffs and expand the purview of the litigation after an investigation purportedly showed "that the same hiring, personnel and company policies that applied to Searchlight interns applied to all interns who participated in FEG's internship program."
Fox resisted the plaintiffs' attempts to file an amended lawsuit that would subject it to inquiries into internship programs at its various divisions as well as corporate interns. The entertainment giant argued that a judge should reject the motion.
At a hearing on Tuesday, Judge William Pauley disagreed with the assessment and ruled that federal rules of civil procedure have liberal amendment standards. As such, he is allowing the new bigger lawsuit with some caveats.
The original lawsuit, filed back in September, was brought on behalf of Alex Footman and Eric Glatt, both of whom say they worked on Black Swan in late 2009 and early 2010.
In August, their attorneys also sought to add Eden Antalik, who participated in the FEG internship program, and Kanene Gratts, who worked on Searchlight's (500) Days of Summer.
The additions meant an expansion of claims and potential damages.
Antalik would represent a class of "corporate interns" at Fox. Meanwhile, Gratts did her work in California (unlike Footman and Glatt, who worked in New York), and as such, her claims also included a new state-based claim of unfair competition.
According to the judge's ruling, the plaintiff's lawyers have been allowed to amend their complaint with the new named plaintiffs with the following conditions: First, Antalalik will withdraw overtime claims on behalf of the corporate interns. Second, Glatt, Footman and Gratts (the production interns) will not bring claims against Fox Entertainment Group. And third, Gratts' California claims don't relate back to the filing of the original complaint (meaning Gratts' class won't date back further than about four years from this August).
Overall, it's largely what the plaintiffs wanted.
"What this means as a practical matter is that the scope of the putative class is much larger," says Elizabeth Wagoner, one of the attorneys representing the interns. "The lawsuit will not only cover Fox Searchlight, but all interns covered by the hiring practices (that led to the named plaintiffs' being interns)."
Wagoner adds that she isn't sure which specific entities at Fox will be targeted for their internship programs. It will depend on what comes out in further discovery. The plaintiffs are targeting specific hiring practices that led to interns being hired to work without pay, even though they were required to fill out I-9 forms, sign confidentiality agreements and were deemed "employees" covered under workers' compensation laws. Wagoner says that the judge ordered Fox to turn over more information.
An amended complaint will be filed by the end of next week. Discovery is now scheduled to be completed by the second week of December. Oral arguments on summary judgment motions have been tentatively scheduled for next April.
Fox hasn't responded yet to a request for comment.
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