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ACE Brief Stresses Importance of Internships to College Students

April 09, 2014

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​ACE and five other higher education associations filed an amicus brief this week in the high-profile case Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., which deals with the legality of unpaid internships. 

The case, on appeal from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, challenges the district court’s ruling that two unpaid interns working on the Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc. film Black Swan were employees entitled to wages. The ruling also certified a class action of unpaid interns who worked for various divisions of Searchlight’s parent corporation, Fox Entertainment Group.  

The appeal will be heard in tandem with Wang v. Hearst Corp., another internship case that reached the opposite conclusion on similar facts. These cases will define the test courts use to determine whether an unpaid intern is an employee entitled to wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The dispute lies in whether the court should apply the Department of Labor’s six-part test​ or a simplified “primary benefit” test.

The ACE brief does not support either party but instead stresses the increasingly vital role internships and cooperative education play in postsecondary education. Focusing on internships taken for college credit, the brief urges deference to colleges and universities when determining whether these internships are of primary benefit to the interns’ education. 

“The uncertain and chilling prospect of employer FLSA liability for a legitimate educational internship restricts, if not altogether eliminates, opportunities which college students need in the public sector, in the non-profit sector, and in the business world,” ACE writes in the brief. “These experiences should not be curtailed by the mechanical application of a law intended to regulate employment, but which was not intended to regulate education.”

Along with ACE, the higher education groups signing the brief are American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, American Association of Community Colleges, College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, and NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. 

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