NEW YORK » Nearly 9,000 unpaid interns stand to benefit from a $6.4 million settlement with NBCUniversal over back wages.
Unpaid interns who worked on "Saturday Night Live" and other shows brought a class action suit last July in Manhattan federal court claiming NBCUniversal violated the law by classifying them as non-employee interns and paid them nothing or less than minimum wage, when they were actually doing employee work. NBCUniversal said in court documents that even though it’s settling the suit, it denies the allegations and doesn’t admit any wrongdoing.
The average amount that class-action members of the suit will receive is $505 before taxes, although the main plaintiffs will receive more. The number of class members is capped at 8,975. The interns had been seeking recovery of unpaid wages, attorneys’ fees, interest and liquidated damages.
The settlement still has to be approved by a judge.
Unpaid internships have long been a way that students and young graduates got a foot in the door in many industries. Companies get some help, interns potentially get experience and contacts — if they can afford to work for free. But in the last few years, unpaid internships have come under legal fire. Last June, a federal judge in New York ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie "Black Swan." Other lawsuits were filed against record companies, magazine publishers, modeling agencies and TV talk show hosts. Some companies, including Conde Nast, subsequently did away with their intern programs.
In addition to back wages, lead plaintiff Monet Eliastem will receive up to $10,000, and other named plaintiffs will receive between $2,000 and $5,000, for their efforts in bringing the class-action, according to court documents. Eliastem agreed not to apply for jobs at NBCUniversal for five years, as a stipulation of the deal.
NBCUniversal is owned by Philadelphia-based cable provider Comcast Corp.