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Business Law

Wage Suit Against Lady Gaga is Litigation of Note

Karina L. Schrengohst

Karina L. Schrengohst

The lawsuit brought against Lady Gaga by her former personal assistant (PA) illustrates some of the wage-and-hour law challenges that employers face.
Lady Gaga hired a friend to be her personal assistant at an annual salary of $75,000. After the two had a falling out, Lady Gaga’s former PA filed a lawsuit alleging that she is owed almost $400,000 in unpaid overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state law. The PA claims she worked 24/7, around the clock. According to the PA, her job duties included reviewing and reconciling credit card statements, ordering meals, heating Lady Gaga’s food, ensuring the promptness of a towel after a shower, serving as a personal alarm clock to keep Lady Gaga on schedule, packing and unpacking Lady Gaga’s 20 bags of luggage, and sleeping in Lady Gaga’s bed with her so that she would be able to attend to all her needs.
Under the FLSA, employees are entitled to overtime unless they fit within specific overtime exemption categories. For a personal assistant, the most likely exemption is the administrative exemption. In order to fit within this exemption, Lady Gaga would have to show that her former PA was paid on a salary basis of at least $455 per week, that her primary job duty included performing office or non-manual work, and that she exercised discretion and independent judgment. In this case, the job duties the PA described do not require the requisite level of discretion and independent judgment sufficient to meet the administrative exemption. Therefore, assuming her description of her job duties is accurate, she would be entitled to overtime for the hours she worked over 40 in a workweek.
But exactly how many hours of overtime did the PA work? According to the PA, she was not compensated for 7,168 hours. But no one kept track of her hours, which, in the case of a non-exempt employee, is an employer’s responsibility.
Also, the PA claims that even during her time off during the day she was required to carry her cell phone in case Lady Gaga needed something. Consequently, according to the PA, she was limited in her ability to engage in personal activities. Therefore, as a non-exempt employee, she likely would be entitled to be paid during some of this on-call time. Similarly, if the PA really had to sleep in Lady Gaga’s bed to attend to any needs that might arise, that time during the night would likely be compensable as well.
During her deposition, Lady Gaga stated that her former PA knew that she would be paid $75,000 for working 24/7 and that she knew that she was not entitled to overtime. Further, recounting some of the perks of the job, Lady Gaga stated that her PA “slept in Egyptian cotton sheets every night, in five-star hotels, on private planes, eating caviar, partying . . . all night, wearing my clothes.” However, knowing she was expected to work 24/7 and enjoying these perks does not overcome the fact that, based on the PA’s description of her job duties, the PA was a non-exempt employee, entitled to overtime pay and on-call time pay.
State and federal laws pertaining to wage-and -hour issues, such as overtime, are complicated. As a result, these are areas where mistakes are often made. Employers, however, cannot afford these errors because the consequence of not complying with these laws can be very costly. In fact, in Massachusetts, there are mandatory treble (triple) damages for unpaid wages. This means that if an employer is found in violation of state law, at a minimum, for every dollar an employer does not pay in accordance with wage-and-hour laws, that employer will have to pay three times that amount. In Lady Gaga’s case (if the case was brought in Massachusetts, which it was not) if the court found that her PA was owed $400,000 in unpaid overtime, Lady Gaga would have to pay $1.2 million. In addition, Lady Gaga would have to pay her former PA’s attorneys’ fees and costs of the litigation. Thus, in order to reduce the risk of liability, employers should consult with their employment counsel and familiarize themselves with state and federal wage-and-hour laws to ensure compliance.
As a side note, Lady Gaga’s legal battle also illustrates the importance of an employer maintaining her poker face during deposition. During her deposition, under oath, Lady Gaga called her former PA a “f—ing hood rat who is suing me for money she didn’t earn.” She also stated “I’m the queen of the universe every day.” And she said to her former PA “I’m quite wonderful to everybody that works for me, and I am completely aghast to what a disgusting human being that you have become to sue me like this.”
These colorful comments will likely be quoted by the PA’s attorneys in briefs submitted to the court. Although an extreme example, it illustrates how damaging emotionally driven testimony can be.

Karina L. Schrengohst, Esq. is an attorney at Royal LLP, a woman-owned, SOMWBA-certified, boutique, management-side labor and employment law firm; (413) 586-2288; kschrengohst@royalllp.com.

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