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Bryan E. Kuhn
Counselor at Law, P.C.
Business & Employment Law Attorney

Lady Gaga’s Former Assistant Sues

Lady Gaga’s former assistant, Jennifer O’Neill sued her on December 2011, claiming she was so severely overworked she’s now owed more than $393,000 in unpaid overtime from 2009 to March 2011.  O’Neill earned a $75,000 salary while working for the pop star.  She is claiming 7,168 hours of unpaid overtime. O’Neill also states she did not get breaks to eat or sleep and was routinely called to deal with “spontaneous, random matters in the middle of the night.” 

In her August 2012 deposition, Lady Gaga admitted that her decision to not pay overtime wasn’t based on labor laws, but is actually based on a “bubbly, good heart.”  Lady Gaga’s camp stated that the lawsuit is completely without merit; going on to say that her assistants are actually spoiled and get to sleep on Egyptian cotton sheets, fly on private planes, party with celebrities and shop at designer boutiques. 

So, assuming Ms. Gaga lived in Colorado, does her case have any teeth?  The Colorado Department of Labor, Minimum Wage Order Number 29 (hereinafter, “The Order”) defines, among other things, overtime requirements.  The Order applies to employers of any size and states the federal law, The Fair Labor Standards Act, also applies and whichever of the two laws sets the highest standard is the one that shall be followed. 

In Colorado, the overtime rate applies to a twelve (12) hour day, forty (40) hour week.  The Order states, “Employees shall be paid time and one-half of the regular rate of pay for any work in excess of 1) forty (40) hours per workweek; 2) twelve (12) hours per workday or 3) twelve (12) consecutive hours without regard to the starting and ending time of the work day, whichever calculation results in the greater payment of wages.  Overtime cannot be waived by the employee so even though Lady Gaga states that Ms. O’Neill knew the job did not pay overtime, she may still be liable. 

The Order does not apply to all workers who perform work in excess of the stated amounts but makes an important distinction between exempt and non-exempt employees.  Out of an estimated 120 million workers in America, almost 50 million are exempt from overtime law, meaning they do not qualify for overtime pay. 

In general, the main types of exempt employees are professionals, executives, and administrative employees.  The Order further states that companions and domestic employees employed by households to perform duties in private residences, as may apply to Lady Gaga’s assistant are exempt. 

Brian Daniel, the founder and owner of the Celebrity Personal Assistant Network, states that this high-profile case could cause more regulation for celebrity and assistant contracts.  He states that Ms. O’Neill was paid well over the industry standard of $60,000. 

However, unfortunately for Lady Gaga, even salaried employees are still not exempt from overtime unless they have exempt job duties.  Further, an employee’s title carries no weight at all when determining whether an employee is owed overtime or not.  The employee’s actual job duties are the determining factor when accounting for overtime. 

An employer cannot circumvent the Fair Labor Standards Act by simply mislabeling all of their employees as “exempt.”  Similarly, labeling an employee as an “Independent Contractor” may not be enough to deny overtime payments.  Although independent contractors are not entitled to overtime pay, many employees are incorrectly characterized.  The Court will apply a detailed factual analysis to see if you are really an employee or an independent contractor under the law.

Lady Gaga’s case is now in the discovery phase and more information should be coming out shortly.  If you have questions about whether or not you are exempt employee, if you may be incorrectly labeled as an independent contractor but are really an employee or if feel you may be owed overtime wages, contact a lawyer to discuss your legal options. 

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