Lady Gaga, whose legal name is Stefani Germanotta, made a media splash from a lawsuit brought on by her former personal assistant, Jennifer O’Neill, who alleged that the pop star owes her overtime for her round-the-clock work from early 2009 until March 2011. O’Neill is suing for $393,000, which includes 7,168 hours of unpaid overtime plus damages. Her salary was $75,000 per year.
Lawsuits between A-listers and their assistants and overtime disputes outside the entertainment industry are far from unusual.
In another recent overtime case that didn’t generate the media attention of Gaga’s legal woes, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that about 1,200 registered nurses at a Washington hospital were due overtime pay for time they worked during 15-minute rest breaks mandated by a collective bargaining agreement. Under state law, the court determined that the passed breaks extended the workweek beyond 40 hours and triggered overtime requirements.
According to most recent data published by the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 197,000 employees received a total of $140.2 million in minimum wage and overtime back wages in 2008 as a result of Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, violations.
So, is GaGa’s ex- aide entitled to overtime pay as the registered nurses in Washington were?
“Overtime laws distinguish between exempt and nonexempt employees,” says Frank Clark, Esq., Partner ofClark & Krevsky, LLC, an employment law firm in Lemoyne, Pa.
“It’s the nonexempt employees who actually get the protections of the overtime laws.”
Clark explains that classifications for exempt and nonexempt workers are based on salary, position, tasks and responsibilities.
Exempt employees who are not entitled to overtime pay as mandated by law meet one of three criteria — they are paid on a salary rather than an hourly basis; they earn at least $455 per week, and they are paid full salary for any workweek, regardless of how much time they work.
“And oftentimes, but not always, managers will be exempt from the overtime laws,” says Clark.
Other characteristics of exempt employees include managing the enterprise or a recognized department or subdivision, conducting key business operations, or supervising employees and having significant influence over hiring decisions.
Unlike exempt employees, nonexempt employees who work over forty hours in a week are entitled to overtime wages.
Clark also points out that laws can be tricky, and employee classifications aren’t always so simple.
O’Neill had a salary of $75,000 per year. According to the Huffington Post, her duties included keeping Gaga on schedule, presenting a towel after showers, and unpacking her boss’ suitcases.
Were such duties key business operations, causing her to be classified as exempt from overtime laws? It’s up to the court to decide.