On February 2, 2011, Steven Wiig, the former personal assistant for Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of California, County of Marin, alleging various violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the California Labor Law. The case is entitled Wiig v. Ulrich, Case No. 1100628.
Among the alleged violations of federal and state law, Wiig claims that Ulrich failed to pay him overtime while working between 50 and 70 hours a week. Wiig alleges that his job duties included maintaining Ulrich’s music and movie collections, hosting guests at concerts, driving Ulrich to late-night social events, videotaping personal and professional appearances, and handling issues related to the musician’s art collection. Wiig further claims that he performed these duties while working at Ulrich’s home, studio, and while going on Metallica’s worldwide tours.
It is not clear on what basis, if any, Ulrich will argue that his former personal assistant was an exempt employee. His best defense likely lies with the “domestic service” exemption, which exempts household employees from overtime pay. This exemption applies to employees such as “cooks, waiters, butlers, valets, maids, housekeepers, governesses, nurses, janitors, laundresses, caretakers, handymen, gardeners, footmen, grooms, and chauffeurs of automobiles for family use.”
However, several courts have addressed this issue and have made it clear that to qualify for the exemption, the employee’s duties must be “solely domestic” in nature. Thus, an employer will lose the exemption if his or “domestic employee” performs clerical duties such as answering phones and recording messages.
Ulrich is just one of numerous celebrities, including Arsenio Hall, Britney Spears, and Patricia Heaton, who have been sued for failing to properly pay their personal assistants overtime. These lawsuits exemplify what we have learned over the past several years – that no employer, even a high profile musician or actor, is safe from overtime claims.