Fox's Entire Internship Program Now Under Legal Attack (Exclusive)

Natalie Portman Black Swan Dancing 2011

A class-action lawsuit that takes issue with internships at Fox Entertainment is becoming a lot bigger.

Last fall, two interns who worked on Black Swan sued Fox Searchlight, claiming that the company's unpaid internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws.

The plaintiffs now are seeking the opportunity to file an amended lawsuit that will "broaden the scope of the case to include all interns who participated in Fox Entertainment Group's internship program."

According to a court filing made public Monday, an investigation in the case "shows that the same hiring, personnel and company policies that applied to Searchlight interns applied to all interns who participated in FEG's internship program."

The plaintiffs point to 20th Century Fox, among other FEG business units, saying that until July 2010, interns hired to work there were not paid, even though they were required to fill out I-9 forms, sign confidentiality agreements and were deemed "employees" covered under workers' compensation laws.

According to the legal documents, FEG changed its policy in July 2010 to require all interns to be paid about $8 per hour.

The plaintiffs in the case not only want to expand the scope of this pending lawsuit, they are seeking to separate two classes of interns -- those who were "corporate interns" at Fox and those who were "production interns" at Fox.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say that two individuals will become new named plaintiffs in the case. One is Eden Antalik, who participated as a corporate intern for FEG. The other is Kanene Gratts, who worked in production on (500) Days of Summer. Gratts also plans on bringing a claim under California's unfair competition law for those who worked in that state.

Internships have been a legal hotspot in entertainment and media in the past year. As the number of unpaid internships has increased, so too has the number of disputes. Besides the current case, former interns have filed separate lawsuits against Hearst Corp. and the Charlie Rose show over alleged abuse of their internship programs.

STORY: Fox Responds to 'Black Swan' Intern Lawsuit

The Fair Labor Standards Act typically has been interpreted to allow companies to have unpaid interns if there's an educational benefit involved, but the Labor Department has made it clear that interns can't replace regular employees.

According to the original lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that “Fox Searchlight’s unpaid interns are a crucial labor force on its productions, functioning as production assistants and bookkeepers and performing secretarial and janitorial work. … In misclassifying many of its workers as unpaid interns, Fox Searchlight has denied them the benefits that the law affords to employees.”

Fox had no comment.

In response to the original lawsuit, Fox had objected to the fact that the "interns were not even retained by Fox Searchlight and, in fact, were working for the production company that made Black Swan well before Fox Searchlight even acquired its rights in the film."

STORY: 'Black Swan' Interns Sue Fox Searchlight After Working for Free

Now, however, the proposed class action might be going much larger to render that issue moot. The judge has ordered a hearing Aug. 24 to consider the proposed motion to amend the lawsuit.


Twitter: @eriqgardner