A new lawsuit filed by a former unpaid intern of Clear Channel Communications, a behemoth of a multimedia conglomerate, could change the way young people looking to break into radio and other forms of entertainment gain experience. Liane Arias, the former intern in question, alleges that the work she was made to do during her employ with Clear Channel went above and beyond what she was told would be expected of her as an unpaid intern. Arias contends that the exorbitant amount of work for no pay is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and that she, and any other past and current unpaid interns covered under the class action suit, deserve back wages.
Unpaid Internships Have Long Been a Part of Entertainment Culture
If successful, the Arias lawsuit could undermine what has been an established part of the entertainment industry for decades. As Los Angeles Times reports, similar lawsuits brought against DreamWorks and other production companies in Hollywood are popping up to challenge the business norm of full-time work for no pay. The arrangement has long been seen as mutually beneficial; interns gain the experience and expertise they need to make it in the dog-eat-dog world of big media, and entertainment giants get free labor in return.
So, Why Are These Type of Lawsuits Increasingly Common?
With the fact that this has been the way things have worked for so long now, many are wondering why interns are choosing now to fight back. As Forbes writes, 97% of large companies plan to hire interns this year. Because these companies are seen as offering false promises — only 37% of unpaid interns actually receive a job offer following their unpaid stint, compared to 35% of those who don’t participate in internships — coupled with hours and responsibilities that stretch the job definition, interns are understandably a bit peeved.
It’s a challenge that is unique to the entertainment market. While most companies face workers compensation and other legal claims meant to pay for musculoskeletal issues produced by their work environments, entertainment industry legal issues are more white collar. The truth is that in an economic climate where it’s extremely hard to come by a job — particularly in the entertainment world — many companies know that they can demand a lot out of their interns in a saturated market. That doesn’t mean the alleged practices of companies like Clear Channel Communications are ethical or legal. That, of course, is a matter for the courts to decide.
Have you had an internship experience that mirrored Liane Arias’s? Tell us about it in the comment section below.