Revolting Interns

In what activists envision as a nascent social movement — and some bosses see as ungrateful whippersnappers unwilling to pay their dues — a slew of unpaid interns have filed suit against their former employers, including high-profile companies such as Fox Searchlight Pictures, Hearst Magazines, Gawker Media, NBCUniversal, Sony, and Conde Nast, claiming they were, in fact, employees under federal labor laws and demanding back pay. Some of the cases are still in progress or the sides have settled, and in a few instances the interns have lost. But in June came a federal district judge’s decision that got everyone’s attention: He ruled in favor of two interns who had worked on the set of the Fox Searchlight film Black Swan. That decision has set employers here and nationwide scrambling to reevaluate the legality of their own internships.

“I think we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the unpaid internship in the for-profit sector,” says Ross Perlin, a New York City-based author who put a spotlight on the issue with his 2011 book Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy.

This weekend, Melissa Schorr looked at some of the litigation that has been occurring against companies by unpaid interns, how some unpaid internships are disappearing (Conde Nast shuttered its internship program for 2014), and how colleges have remained conspicuously silent about the matter (companies feel better about offering no compensation if they think interns will get college credit they can actually use towards graduating).

Photo: Ted Van Pelt

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