What happens to the unpaid intern who sues his former employer? The Atlantic Wire talked with the plaintiffs, Eric Glatt and Alex Footman, who just had a judge validate their claim that Fox Searchlight should have paid them as production interns on Black Swan. And, good news for those two former underpaid Condé Nast magazine interns who just filed their own suit: It turns out a very high profile lawsuit against one of the biggest names in the industry doesn't ruin your career — depending on exactly what kind of professional life you want, that is.
Glatt (pictured at left) no longer works in the film business, but not necessarily because he can't. Currently a law student at Georgetown, he went on to work for an ESPN project and helped with some other smaller projects, not all of which paid. "I kept myself busy, but I wasn't as busy for suing my past employer," he said. After mostly living off savings from a former career on Wall Street with AIG while working and volunteering on smaller projects here and there, Glatt began focusing on his legal case. "I got to a point where I felt it was more important to speak out than to worry how it would impact my own career."
"I've learned that if you actually have a talent or any sort of competence in this industry, you realize what your time and work is worth," Footman (pictured at right) said from a hotel in Herat, Afghanistan, where he is working for money as a documentary filmmaker. "I've found that's really important. People don't give you their best unless you pay them at a commensurate rate. People understand that here." Out of college, Footman lived off $0 in New York City with financial help from his "solidly middle class" mother and grandfather to work on Black Swan. Now, while living in Kabul, Footman is being paid to work on two documentaries — one about the country's first heavy metal band and another about the Afghan soccer league.
Everyone, of course, told Glatt the suit was "career suicide." Glatt, who has an MBA from Case Western Reserve, however, is not your typical just-out-of-college broke 20-something. He was in a unique financial position to take that kind of risk. Once he put together the case and found lawyers to take it on, Footman felt compelled to join. "I'd been unhappy about what had happened, about the internship and the six months of my life that I would have spent doing something else," Footman said. "But I didn't know that we had any sort of actual grounds for a lawsuit until Eric approached me."
After spending days staring at the wall while working on Black Swan, Footman went to Washington, D.C., and found a mentorship where he got paid — and learned things. "It was kind of the oppositte of the Fox Searchlight experience." He then bounced around from New York City, which he found too competitive, to Afghanistan, where he made his own movie, to France, back to D.C. and to Afghanistan again. Contrary to all the talk about "career suicide," he says all the people he has since met while working in film have — at least to his face — supported his suit.
No longer pursuing film, Glatt has turned his legal battle against unpaid internships into a cause. At one point he hooked up with Occupy Wall Street to work on the still on-going Intern Labor Rights group, which fits neatly into his narrative and erupted a few weeks before he initially filed the suit. Now, having just finished his first year in lawschool, he runs the Interns ≠ Free Labor Twitter account. After studying public interest law at Georgetown, he says another issue is beginning to interest him: "Now I have student loans, so I can join that cause."
Of course, being the face of the intern cause hasn't been exactly what Footman expected. He didn't think he would ever see his name in the paper, let alone have a Village Voice writer characterize him as entitled or a Gawker writer call him "ungrateful." But the vindication from the judge's decision in his favor has made it all worth it. "Actually having a judge say, yeah, you guys were right, this practice is wrong and not in accordance with the law, is really satisfying," Glatt Said.
Images by Glatt via Facebook.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.