Typically, when workers publicly strike out against bosses who treat them badly, their peers in the industry rally behind them. The world of personal assistants is, apparently, different.
Lady Gaga’s former personal assistant, Jennifer O’Neill, recently filed a lawsuit saying she’s owed thousands of dollars for over 7,000 hours in overtime. In the suit, she also complains about having to cater to Gaga in the middle of the night. But an industry insider says, first, that long hours are par for the course in the personal assistant world, and second, that lawsuits like these leave the entire industry — assistants and VIPs alike — “terrified.”
Brian Daniel, the founder and owner of the Celebrity Personal Assistant Network, a headhunting firm that pairs celebrities with personal assistants, says the lawsuit is “sending shockwaves through the whole industry” because the attention could make agreements more formalized, which would be a major change in an industry where deals are largely done under the table.
Daniel says thousands of Hollywood assistants are paid in cash, meaning neither the employer nor employee pays taxes. If a high-profile case sheds light on this practice, it could mean more regulation — and less cash — for celebrities and assistants alike. “The city of LA is bankrupt, so when the sirens go off, it’s like the mob. They really don’t want attention drawn to us.”
He also says the complaints filed by O’Neill don’t make much sense to him. “Standard operating procedure is that being a personal assistant is a salaried position, because you have no way to predict how many hours you’ll be working,” he says. “And it’s odd that she worked for Gaga for a few years, and then when the relationship dissolved, there’s a lawsuit. If you had objections, you should have said something three months in.”
Beyond that — O’Neill was being paid $75,000 a year, well over the industry standard. Daniel says most assistants for top celebrities can expect around $60,000, while some make much less.
Lady Gaga also reacted to the lawsuit by saying that perks — like “sleep[ing in] Egyptian cotton sheets every night, in five-star hotels, on private planes, eating caviar, partying with Terry Richardson all night, wearing my clothes, asking YSL to send her free shoes” — should be considered part of an assistant’s compensation. Daniel mostly agrees. Before starting the Celebrity Personal Assistant Network, he worked for the Saudi royal family, where he made over $250,000 a year. But he says he considered his total compensation to be more than that. “When you’re working for these people, you have to consider that part of the pay is the lifestyle. You’re staying in Ritz Carlton, you’re driving Ferraris, you’re flying on private planes.”