Assisting Lady Gaga with her day-to-day needs may be a dream to many, but does it make one exempt from overtime pay? Under DOL regulations, an administrative assistant who is paid on a salaried basis and exercises significant independent discretion and judgment is exempt under the "administrative exemption." 29 CFR § 541.203(d). This is the same exemption that applies to others who exercise significant independent discretion and judgment in performing "office or non-manual" work (as demonstrated by regulation 541.203), such as certain Human Resources employees. Challenges to the applicability of the exemption to executive or personal assistants are not new; the fact that the individual being assisted is a prominent professional in his or her industry is not determinative. Some courts applying the DOL’s regulation have expressed reluctance to rule that well-compensated individuals providing such assistance do not exercise "discretion and independent judgment, but case law remains unclear. See Seltzer v. Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, Inc., 356 F. Supp. 2d 288 (S.D.N.Y. 2005)(executive assistant to president of defendant investment bank qualified for exemption); Malena v. Victoria’s Secret Direct, LLC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121320 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 16, 2010)(denying summary judgment as to whether defendant’s good faith belief that executive assistants performed exempt work precluded liability).
In a new challenge, a former personal assistant to chart-topping entertainer Lady Gaga has filed suit, alleging that she essentially worked around the clock in exchange for a fixed salary, and thus did not receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in premium overtime pay due under the FLSA and state law. O’Neill v. Mermaid Touring Inc., Civil Case No. 11-9128 (Southern District of New York, Dec. 14, 2011)(Jones, J).
Employers and individuals retaining personal or executive assistants to perform similar services should be aware of the employment risks associated therewith. At the least, in addition to ensuring such employee is paid on a salaried basis, the employer must ensure that the assistant utilizes independent discretion in judgment in performing job duties.