Tina Fey’s “30 Rock” has made many a joke at the expense of low-ranking gophers, but real-life unpaid interns at “Saturday Night Live” are getting the last laugh. In what could be the largest unpaid intern payout in history, NBCUniversal has agreed to pay $6.4 million to settle with a group of former unpaid interns who worked on the famed sketch-comedy show.
In court papers filed Wednesday, lawyers for the interns say the two sides reached a “fair, reasonable and adequate” agreement in a class-action lawsuit filed against NBCUniversal last summer. Under the agreement, which is still subject to a judge’s approval, the interns will receive about $505 each, with as many as 8,975 interns receiving a payout.
The interns claim they did the work of regular employees and were wrongly classified as interns, a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which generally prohibits employers from benefiting from the work of unpaid interns. The suit’s key plaintiffs -- Monet Eliastam, Alexander Vainer and Rheanna Behuniak -- worked for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” in 2012.
Despite the sizable settlement, NBCUniversal continues to deny it did anything wrong.
If the settlement is approved, it could pave the way for others, and will likely encourage more lawsuits. Labor lawyers say intern lawsuits tend not to be very lucrative, since interns typically only sue for minimum wages. But the promise of class actions against large companies has more law firms agreeing to take such cases.
As such, intern lawsuits have become more commonplace in so-called glamour industries like journalism and entertainment. Since Fox Searchlight was sued by former interns for the film “Black Swan” in 2012, former interns at a number of media companies -- including Hearst Corp, Warner Music, and Gawker Media -- have turned to the courts seeking back pay and damages.
So far the wage disputes have had varying results. Last year, a judge ruled in favor of the Fox Searchlight interns, but the company appealed the decision and vows to continue to fight. More recently, a former intern for David Letterman backed out of a lawsuit against CBS and Worldwide Pants, saying she was coerced into the litigation by a “beguiling legion of lawsuit-hungry attorneys.”
NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast Corp. Read the full details of the settlement here.