Internships are widely used in the music industry globally, a by-product of the extreme competition for highly-sought after positions in an industry seen by many as glamorous but
But not all internships are created equal. While some can be hugely beneficial to a prospective employee looking for some experience and a starting point into an industry notoriously difficult to get your foot in the door; others are nothing more than unpaid labour.
Now a former intern at Atlantic Records, a division of Warner Music Group, has filed a class-action lawsuit against the record company accusing the unpaid internship of being exploitative and illegal.
The complaint was filed in the New York Supreme Court reports Billboard, and is seeking to recover unpaid minimum wages and overtime wages. It is believed more than 100 individual completed the internship and the lawyers behind the suit are hoping they’ll join the suit for compensation.
The plaintiff who is spearheading the suit is Justin Henry, who took part in the internship from October 2007 through to May 2008, but was never paid for the office work he performed. In addition, Henry says there was no academic or vocational training as part of the internship.
According to the complaint, on average Henry worked five days each week from 10 a.m. until 5 or 6 p.m., but was sometimes required to stay later, running his work week above 40 hours that they allege should also trigger overtime pay obligations.
Henry says that his duties “primarily consisted of answering the phones, faxing papers, filing papers, and retrieving lunch for paid employees.”
Henry is seeking to recover unpaid minimum wages and overtime, as well as attorney’s fees. Atlantic could have likely avoided the lawsuit had it paid Henry the then-minimum wage of $7.15 per hour, his lawyer said.
This is the first unpaid internship lawsuit to be filed against a music industry business, according to lawyers involved in suit, which alleges that Atlantic Records and its parent, Warner Music Group Corp. violated New York State Labor law by requiring the intern, Justin Henry, of Brooklyn, to work full time without pay.
Henry’s lawyers, Maurice S. Pianko, founder of New York-based Intern Justice; Lloyd Ambinder, managing partner of New York-based Virginia & Ambinder LLP, and Jeffrey K. Brown, senior partner of Leeds Brown Law P.C., contend that Henry’s internship existed solely for the benefit of Atlantic Records, and that Henry received no training or mentorship.
Unpaid internships must exist for training purposes and employers may derive “no immediate advantage” from the work provided by interns, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law. Similar laws exist here in Australia.
“Unpaid interns are ‘employees’ under New York labor law and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and they are eligible to sue for unpaid wages going back six years,” said Brown.
“College students and recent graduates are amongst the most vulnerable workers. They are desperate to gain employment, and will often accept any work without compensation in the hope of one day gaining fulltime employment with a company,” added Ambinder.
This is the second lawsuit filed by Intern Justice as part of its “Fair Wage Summer” campaign, and the group expect it won’t be the last.
“In addition to these unpaid internships being exploitative, unethical, and often illegal from a policy perspective, unpaid internships are a bad thing: they usually displace a paid worker and they rob the government of much needed tax revenue,” Pianko said.
“These unpaid internships create a barrier to job-market entry for those from the most severely disadvantaged socioeconomic groups.”
Lenard Leeds, also a partner in Leeds Brown, said: “There is no doubt that Justin Henry performed valuable services while he was at Atlantic Records, and we think he deserves to be paid for providing these services. We are confident that a jury will agree.”
Warner Music are yet to comment on the suit.
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