Among the top 10 reasons to work for David Letterman, it seems getting paid isn’t one of them.
So says Mallory Musallam, a former unpaid intern at “The Late Show With David Letterman,” who has filed a class-action suit against CBS and Letterman’s production company, worldwide Pants, according to the Los Angeles Times. According to Deadline, she’s also suing on behalf of everyone who has ever been an intern on the show. The suit alleges that the production violated minimum-wage and overtime laws.
The suit is part of a trend of interns fighting back against what they see as exploitation in an economy in which “scoring” an unpaid internship has replaced finding paid work as a way to begin building a work resume.
The lawsuit is asking for six years’ worth of nonpayment for Musallam and her co-plaintiffs. Musallam worked as an intern on the “Late Show” in the fall and winter of 2008. In a court filing posted by Deadline, the suit alleges that the defendants intentionally minimized labor costs by giving work to unpaid interns instead of having paid employees stay extra hours or hiring additional employees to do the work. In addition to back pay, the plaintiffs are seeking interest and attorneys’ fees.
Musallam clims that she typically worked more than 40 hours a week and did not receive any pay, or academic or vocational training. According to the suit, Musallam performed tasks that would typically be expected of paid employees, work like “research for interview material, deliver film clips from libraries, running errands, faxing, scanning, operating the switchboard and other similar duties.” If these claims are true, Worldwide Pants could be held in violation of the Six Federal Criteria for Unpaid Internships that must be satisfied for an unpaid internship to comply with the law.
Litigants such as Musallam have been encouraged by the success of a class-action suit against movie studio Fox Searchlight by former interns on the 2010 film “Black Swan.” Since then, similar lawsuits from unpaid interns at Warner Music Group, Atlantic Records, and publishing houses Condé Nast and Hearst Corp. followed, with varying success. According to the Los Angeles Times, a former intern for the Los Angeles Clippers recently sued the Sterling family Trust as well.
CBS responded to Musallem’s lawsuit by vowing to fight: “This lawsuit is part of a nationwide trend of class-action lawyers attacking internship opportunities provided by companies in the media and entertainment industry,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We pride ourselves on providing valuable internship experiences, and we take seriously all of our obligations under relevant labor and employment laws.”