A jury in Nashville has held Martina McBride and her husband, John McBride, liable in a lawsuit filed by an employee who claimed the Nashville power couple retaliated against him after he filed a complaint alleging that they took unfair advantage of unpaid interns at their Nashville recording complex, Blackbird Studio.

John McBride is a celebrated sound engineer in Nashville, and Blackbird is one of the most prominent recording studios in Music City, working not only with country acts, but also with artists from various genres including AlabamaEd Sheeran, the White Stripes, Taylor Swift, Styx and more.

Former Blackbird Operations Manager Richard Hanson, who worked at the studio for five years, filed a lawsuit against the couple in June of 2018 after claiming they had violated the law by mistreating unpaid interns who worked at Blackbird over the years. Hanson alleged the McBrides ignored him when shared his concerns about their treatment of interns, and he claims John McBride fired him an hour after he revealed that he had filed an official complaint with the state. Hanson subsequently sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Tennessee Public Protection Act, claiming his firing was in retaliation for his complaint.

In a decision on Friday, Feb. 7, a jury in Nashville found the McBrides and Blackbird liable of retaliation against Hanson and awarded him $100,000 in compensatory damages, $59,000 in back pay and $59,000 in liquidated damages at the judge’s discretion.

“When he observed the exploitation of unpaid interns and other employees, Mr. Hanson refused to remain silent and consequently was wrongly terminated,” Hanson's attorney, Brian Winfrey, says in a press release from Morgan & Morgan. “We believe the jury’s verdict was fair, and are pleased that they recognized the impact the defendants’ retaliation had on Mr. Hanson’s life.”

Hanson alleged that the abuses he witnessed included making unpaid interns tear down studio equipment, pick up groceries and takeout food and clean bathrooms. He claimed that one intern was even dispatched to the McBrides' home with a gun to check for a possible intruder, despite the fact that that intern had no experience with firearms. He also claimed that the couple yelled at interns for not performing the personal errands and duties that were unrelated to their duties at Blackbird.

"It appeared that the primary beneficiaries of [the McBrides'] internship program were [the McBrides] rather than the unpaid interns," Hanson stated in his lawsuit. "Defendants made clear to [Hanson] that its unpaid internship program was a means to get free labor that it would otherwise have to pay employees to perform."

Martina McBride denied Hanson's allegations at the time of his filing in a statement to Nashville's Tennessean newspaper, saying, “Blackbird Studios cooperated with the Department of Labor and they found this claim was not supported by the facts. John and I have created a culture at Blackbird that is familial and supportive of everyone who walks through its doors.”

Blackbird Studio declined to comment on the jury's decision when reached by phone.

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