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Lady Gaga’s Personal Assistant Sues: A Reminder of Wage and Hour Law Obligations

Lady Gaga’s lawsuit has recently received a lot of attention from entertainment news, as her former personal assistant is claiming she has been denied hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay. In addition to bringing public attention details of Ms. Gaga’s personal life, her personal assistant’s claim may also have actual merit under both the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York state law.

Jennifer O’Neill worked for Lady Gaga (whose proper name is Stefani Germanotta) for a mere thirteen months and an annual salary of $75,000. Despite this seemingly adequate salary, she claims she was not compensated for overtime and did not qualify for the “administrative exception” to overtime laws. Ms. O’Neil was allegedly on duty around the clock and often forgoing meals and sleep to be at Lady Gaga’s beck and call, she claims she was figuratively (and often literally) by her side at all times of the day with little respite. She is therefore seeking $380,000 in back overtime compensation for the 7,168 hours of overtime for which she allegedly worked and was not compensated.

These types of labor disputes often get attention for the celebrity involved, but are also useful as a learning tool for non-Gaga fans who wish to protect themselves from similar lawsuits (one does not have to be a beloved pop icon to be sued for compensation oversight.) There are two issues in this case. First, it is important to understand which employees may be exempt from overtime, and in her case, which are not. Under the U.S. Department of Labor regulations, creative workers, computer workers, executives, and professionals none of which seem to accurately describe the work of Jennifer O’Neill can be exempt from overtime. Administrative assistants or employees performing non-manual work a category which might cover Ms. O’Neill’s line of work may also be exempt from overtime if they satisfy all of the following:

  • The employee must be compensated on a salary or fee basis (as defined in the regulations) at a rate not less than $455 per week;
  • The employee’s primary duty must be the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer’s customers; and
  • The employee’s primary duty includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.

In Lady Gaga’s case, Jennifer O’Neill may satisfy the first two criteria above, but is claiming she did not exercise sufficient independent discretion, therefore qualifying her for exemption. The Department of Regulation defines discretion and independent judgment is:

The employee has authority to make an independent choice, free from immediate direction or supervision. Factors to consider include, but are not limited to: whether the employee has authority to formulate, affect, interpret, or implement management policies or operating practices; whether the employee carries out major assignments in conducting the operations of the business; whether the employee performs work that affects business operations to a substantial degree; whether the employee has authority to commit the employer in matters that have significant financial impact; whether the employee has authority to waive or deviate from established policies and procedures without prior approval, and other factors set forth in the regulation.

The second issue is on-call employment, because even if Lady Gaga did not need Ms. O’Neill, it is alleged that she wasn’t allowed to be very far from the singer. If an employer does not wish to pay overtime for a non-exempt employee on-call, the employee’s tasks cannot unduly restrict the employee’s ability to spend his or her time away from the job. For example, if the non-exempt employees cannot go home or leave the work premises, or must remain within such a close distant that they cannot effectively use their free time, they will have to be compensated overtime.

Labor Law can be complex and time will tell how the courts decide to define her as Lady Gaga’s personal assistant. In order to avoid paying overtime or facing an expensive lawsuit such as Lady Gaga’s, it is important to understand which of your employees are exempt and which are not exempt from overtime pay based on federal labor laws, and this includes understanding how their job descriptions are defined by the law as well. Even if the employee is not working, his own personal leisure activities need to be relatively unhindered. If not, those hours worked may count towards their total weekly work hours.

If you would like to know more about this posting, please contact Phil Mortensen of Barton Barton & Plotkin LLP for additional information.