The students enrolled in Wolford College’s 28-month nurse anesthesia master’s program to become certified registered nurse anesthetists. While at Wolford, the students were interns in a clinical training program supervised and subsidized by Collier.
The students knew that the internship was unpaid and that completing it was required for graduation. Even so, in 2012, the students sued Collier and Wolford, claiming they were actually employees during their time at Collier and that they were entitled to minimum wage and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
In 2014, the court decided to dismiss the interns’ claims, finding they were not employees. The interns appealed, and the federal court of appeals that covers Florida disagreed with the analysis used by the trial court. The appeals court followed an analysis known as the “primary beneficiary” test, in which the court tries to identify the primary beneficiary of the internship for academic credit and professional certification purposes. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court and told it to use this analysis to collect more facts and issue a decision.
On April 3, 2017, the Ft. Myers court found that deciding the issue was a mixed question of law and fact and that a jury should make the decision. That means the interns will get a trial. Schumann v. Collier Anesthesia, P.A., No. 2-12-cv-347-FtM-29CM (April 3, 2017).
If your company uses student interns, the particular facts will determine whether they are employees entitled to pay. Have labor counsel look at the appeals court’s decision and apply the analysis to your internship program.