Lady Gaga Sued for not Paying Overtime
A former assistant is suing pop star Lady Gaga for more than 7,000 hours in overtime pay, claiming the singer shorted her for her around-the-clock help from 2009 through 2011. Jenifer O’Neill is seeking $393,000 plus damages for time she spent above and beyond 40 hours a week at her $75,000 per year job.
O’Neill claims in the lawsuit that she was at Gaga’s “beck and call” with few breaks and scarce time for meals or sleep.
The singer, famous for hits like “Poker Face” and for wearing a meat dress, did not take kindly to the lawsuit.
“Not that people who do that don’t deserve their hourly pay, but I’m just pointing out that I deserve everything I’ve worked for,” Gaga said at her deposition last summer. “I deserve every dollar of it. And she deserves every dollar of her $75,000 that we agreed to. But she does not deserve a penny more.”
Gaga also apparently called O’Neill a “[expletive deleted] hood rat who is suing me for money that she didn’t earn” and that she “knew exactly what she was getting into, and she knew there was no overtime, and I never paid her overtime the first time I hired her, so why would she be paid overtime the second time?”
Can’t Waive Federal Rights
Unfortunately for Lady Gaga, if the facts of the case play out the way they’ve been reported so far, she could be on the hook for the extra money. Overtime rules are governed by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and cannot be negotiated away in an employment contract.
“You cannot waive your federal rights,” says Galvin Kennedy, founding partner at Kennedy Hodges, a Texas firm that specializes in overtime disputes. “You cannot waive your right to overtime. Period.”
Exemptions apply only to salaried executive employees, members of certain professions like teachers and doctors, and limited other categories.
“The court asks if this person is actually working more than 40 hours per week. If the answer is yes, the law says they are required to be paid one and a half times the regular rate of pay,” says Kennedy, who wrote about the suit on his firm’s website.
Gaga insisted during the deposition that much of the time she spent with O’Neill was as a friend, not employer, and that she showed O’Neill the “time of her life” where “she slept in Egyptian cotton sheets every night, in five-star hotels, on private planes, eating caviar.”
Whether O’Neill was actually hanging out with Gaga as a friend or if she was on call at all hours could be the crux of the case. “In general, the courts will try to figure out what is the assistant’s principle job,” Kennedy says. If she had specific duties to perform at specific times, that’s one thing, but if she had to jump whenever her boss wanted her to it counts as time on the clock, even if there was downtime.
“The hostess at a restaurant might end up sitting there for the first hour,” the attorney points out. “That’s still part of her job.”
The legal burden is on the employer to keep track of the number of hours worked. If they fail to do so, the employee can bring evidence like cell phone records or receipts to give a general picture of how much they had to work. “You can use a paper trail that is a circumstantial record of evidence,” Kennedy says. “It’s ok if they don’t have a precise number of hours.”