Two men who worked on the hit movie “Black Swan” have mounted a challenge to the film industry’s widely accepted practice of unpaid internships by filing a lawsuit on Wednesday asserting that the production company had violated minimum wage and overtime laws by hiring dozens of such interns.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, claims that Fox Searchlight Pictures, the producer of “Black Swan,” had the interns do menial work that should have been done by paid employees and did not provide them with the type of educational experience that labor rules require in order to exempt employers from paying interns.
One plaintiff said his responsibilities included preparing coffee for the production office, ensuring that the coffee pot was full, taking and distributing lunch orders for the production staff, taking out the trash and cleaning the office.
Black Swan had more than $300 million in revenues.
The lawsuit is seeking class-action status for what the plaintiffs say were more than 100 unpaid interns on various Fox Searchlight productions. In addition to seeking back pay under federal and state wage laws, the lawsuit seeks an injunction barring Fox Searchlight from improperly using unpaid interns.
Fox Searchlight acted illegally, the lawsuit asserts, because the company did not meet the federal labor department’s criteria for unpaid internships. Those criteria require that the position benefit the intern, that the intern not displace regular employees, that the training received be similar to what would be given in an educational institution and that the employer derive no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.