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Court Decision Threatens Viability of Unpaid Internships

Which could be a bummer for those seeking experience and entry to an industry

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Like many students trying to get a leg up, Nowrasteh, 26, of Falls Church, Virginia, worked a string of unpaid internships while in undergraduate and graduate school. She often had to work part-time jobs simultaneously to pay for things like food and rent.

"The value I was getting was non-monetary," Nowrasteh, who did seven unpaid internships as a student, said in an interview. "I wouldn't have gotten all that experience if I wasn't willing to work for free."

The practice, especially common in competitive industries like journalism, finance and filmmaking, could change if the appeals court upholds the ruling of a federal judge in New York who found that moviemaker Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. violated labor laws by not paying two of its interns. Cases have also been brought against Hearst Corp., Conde Nast Publications and the Public Broadcasting Service's Charlie RoseShow. …

Gardner doubted that Glatt's legal victory will put a stop to the practice, though it may make employers think twice about not paying interns, he said. That could hurt students, who may face more limited opportunities to gain experience.

"You start at the bottom, and you do what you have to do to get your break," Gardner said in an interview. "That's the mindset. It's really resistant to change."