The Intern Behind The 'Charlie Rose' Lawsuit: 'I Didn't Expect To Win'

Things are looking up for the tired, poor and huddled masses of unpaid interns. Last week, a judge ruled that Fox Searchlight Pictures should have paid two interns who worked at the movie studio. And with new lawsuits filed every week, it seems, many media companies have begun compensating their intern help.

But what happens after you sue a powerful media company? Even if you win -- do you lose? AOL Jobs spoke with Lucy Bickerton (pictured above at far right), who successfully settled with the PBS show "Charlie Rose" in December 2012 on behalf of over 200 unpaid interns, about what it's really like to take on an industry.

What made you decide to file your lawsuit?

I'm really good friends with Eric Glatt [the former unpaid intern who recently won his case against Fox Searchlight Pictures], because we were both part of a group of Wesleyan alums in the entertainment industry. He kind of inspired me to do it. It just seemed like this issue was on no one's radar. I didn't do this for the money; I'm not getting that much money anyway. And I didn't expect to win. I just knew that -- talking to Eric -- that more people needed to do it.

Was your experience at the "Charlie Rose" show really bad?

It wasn't that my experience was negative, like "Oh no, they made me wash dishes, wah!" I learned a lot, and I ended up getting freelance work afterwards. I just believe the positions the interns were holding would normally be paid, and should be paid. They were full-time production jobs. I just think it's illegal. It violates labor laws. There's a reason labor laws exist.

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What bothers you the most about unpaid internships?

I really believe that unpaid internships were starting to replace entry-level jobs. Yes, unpaid interns are getting something from the experience, and they have to pay their dues. But the wage issue really trickles up; if you're starting at zero, you're hurting everyone. And they destroy any sense of meritocracy about it, in terms of class. Women also do a lot more unpaid internships than men.

Were you worried that it would negatively impact your career?

I don't think people paid that much attention to the name of a person filing a lawsuit. If somebody read one New York Times article about my lawsuit, and a year later interviewed me for a job, I don't think they'd remember. Of course, if they Googled me they'd come up with hundreds of results. But really, if my employer has a huge problem with that, then I'm not interested in working with them. That's a tell-tale sign of a moral world that I don't want to be a part of as an employee.

Are you still working in the media?

No, I'm now in a post-bac pre-med program, and I knew at the time that I was going to be changing paths anyway, and disappearing into school life for a few years. So those repercussions were less important to me.

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Did you change career paths because of your internship experience at the "Charlie Rose" show?

No, but I do feel like that experience was not out of line with how I feel labor is treated in media and entertainment. As an industry, it doesn't give a lot of room to employees to be humans with personal needs. It's very demanding, but doesn't give the financial rewards that other demanding industries do. I think it treats people as a little disposable in that respect.

You worked in film production for a couple of years after graduation. What was the last straw for you, that made you change your mind about that career?

I was working on this feature film, and the producer became kind of my mentor. I really looked up to her. I really thought: She's a person I want to be. I want to have her career. But she was actually struggling in her career at that point, and could only keep it together because she had family money.

I realized that I could slave away for years and years and years, and there could be this sudden turn. I don't have family resources that could rescue me from that situation. Finally, the producer ran out of money, and basically replaced me with an unpaid intern.

You reached a settlement with the "Charlie Rose" show. So how much did you actually receive in the settlement?

There's $250,000 available, and 200-plus individuals who are eligible to get some of that money. It sounds like "Lucy is getting $250,000!" I wish. We'll all receive around $1,100 or $1,200, which isn't much money at all. After taxes, that's not even a month of rent!

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You were the only named plaintiff in the lawsuit. Did you try to recruit other unpaid interns to join you?

There were a few other interns who reached out, and it looked like at least one other person would join me -- but I think they were nervous. It's a personal cost-benefit-analysis to go through. I certainly wasn't going to push that on anyone.

Do you think unpaid internships will ever really go away, given that they're such a part of the business?

This practice didn't used to be so widespread. People didn't used to expect this. And especially now, academic institutions are building internships into the academic experience so readily, even collecting money from their students for free work they've given away. It's become so institutionalized. But that's up to corporations to figure out how to monetize their products, not up to a bunch of students to be willing to subsidize it.

Do you feel the lawsuits make a difference?

I just felt like it was really necessary, to stop this tide of internships replacing entry-level jobs, for more people to file these lawsuits. When Eric filed his lawsuit against Fox Searchlight, the gesture was just really meaningful. It's giving other people the encouragement they need. And how amazing. How amazing that he won.

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Worker self directed enterprises are the future. I'd forget about getting on the 9 to 5 treadmill and giving your labour and ideas to a greedy corporation.

April 14 2015 at 12:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Back in the day(early 1970's) my brother got an internship with a small city community development office. He was paid about 2 dollars above minimum wage(which was pretty good back then). But private corporations with all their profits and waste have never really paid interns. If I was an intern I'd get any job that paid, write a thesis or paper on my experience and send it to your college for credit. I have no problem with an intern suing with knowing she would not get paid. Interns find out that they are being exploited to the max, doing so much running around and becoming ill. I would sue too. good old sell out Conan O Brian does not pay his interns a cent or should i say TBS does not. digression: Conan's show really sucks since it left NYC.

April 14 2015 at 12:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wait, did I miss something? Did she not know going in to this that it was unpaid? Did she not have the choice to do an unpaid internship or something else? This is garbage. She should be ashamed of herself. There are real legal injustices and abuses in our system and her own personal choice to do an unpaid internship is not one of them.

July 10 2013 at 3:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I did an unpaid internship and while it sucked to not get paid I knew that full well going in. I would not later sue them for not paying me, I would have attempted to negotiate it prior to starting. Agreeing to a contract and then suing because you do not like it seems very unprofessional to me. Of course, I think that employers do abuse the system by not offering payment, so I am encouraged if that trend stops.

June 23 2013 at 2:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Seriouslty your not applying for a paid position and because the government backed PBS has like no money for a good lawyer, someone;'s spoiled child gets money? Sheesh is everyone who has been here more than one generation totally this intercoursed up? This country is beyond fubar!

June 23 2013 at 9:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My daughters college does Co-Ops. She doesn't pay tuition and doesn't get credit just experience and most are paid. She is doing a paid Co-Op now and more than likely will be offered a job when she graduates. It is the main reason we choose that Univesity.

June 23 2013 at 12:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My daughter did two internships through her university credited courses. Cost us over $1200.00. We knew she would not be paid she knew she would not be paid. She worked very hard but did learn a lot. So the University benefited through the monies paid for the course and the institution she interned with got free labour. Its a money game that we have all fallen for. University makes big money the companies get free labour. She did get a job in her field but not with any of the internships. She is one of the lucky ones.

June 22 2013 at 5:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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