Celine Dion Sued for Refusing to Pay Workers Overtime

The Grammy-Award winning singer Celine Dion has just been sued in federal court for refusing to pay overtime to workers at her $20 million Florida mansion, as reported yesterday by the New York Daily News. The suit Sturtevant v. Feeling Productions Inc. and Celine Dion, filed in the District Court of the Southern District of Florida, requests the singer and her record producer husband pay unpaid overtime wages, damages and attorneys’ costs. This suit makes Celine Dion the second high-profile celebrity to be charged with refusing to pay overtime to her workers this year, after Sharon Stone was hit by a similar suit in California last month.
The suit was filed by Keith Sturtevant, a warehouse manager for Celine Dion who also performed work duties at her Florida mansion from March 2009 to June of this year. In the complaint, Sturtevant claims that the singer categorized him as exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act by giving him the title of “warehouse manager” although he was the sole employee at the singer’s warehouse and did not have the power to hire or fire workers. Sturtevant also claims that he spent much of his time working at the singer’s mansion performing such duties as fixing ice makers, cleaning the shutters of her house, building stages and repairing kitchen appliances. He also claims that he was sent on a number of unrelated errands as well. Sturtevant claims that considering the overall character of his work duties, he was only categorized as a “manager” so that Celine Dion could avoid paying him overtime. Sturtevant also claims that other workers for Celine Dion were also miscategorized as independent contractors even though most of their work was at the singer’s mansion and was under her control. He filed suit for himself and on behalf of all these other similarly situated workers for the unpaid overtime wages he claims were due.
This suit in federal court, beyond being an embarrassment for the singer is also evidence of the continuing relevance of the issues of overtime and the categorization of independent contractors in labor and employment law today. Many employers have been miscategorizing their workers as independent contractors or otherwise exempt from the overtime laws for years, but only recently has the issue come into the spotlight as workers around the country have felt the pinch during this economic recession. The Department of Labor and the IRS have responded by warning that they will take a more aggressive stance towards those employers who wrongly categorize their workers as independent contractors. Last September the Department of Labor and the IRS signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to work together to identify and prosecute employers who wrongly categorize their workers as independent contractors. Since then 13 states have followed suit and agreed to cooperate with the Department of Labor to supply information to identify such employers. Employers who categorize their workers as exempt managers, executives or professionals will also be carefully scrutinized.
In the suit against Celine Dion, what the court will consider in determining whether she is liable for unpaid overtime is whether her workers were exempt as either managers or independent contractors. For Sturtevant, the court will look beyond his title of “manager” to determine whether his work was truly managerial and thus exempted from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In determining whether his work was sufficiently managerial, the court will consider the number of employees Sturtevant supervised, whether he had discretion over most of his tasks, whether he was able to fire and hire employees and whether he was able to direct his work. The fact that he was paid a salary and not on an hourly basis will not be dispositive. Likewise, if it is true that he was regularly required to perform extensive maintenance duties like he claimed, then the court will consider that as evidence that his work was not sufficiently managerial in nature.
For the other workers at Celine Dion’s mansion, the court will consider a number of factors to determine whether they were properly classified as independent contractors exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. One of the primary issues the court will consider is the amount of control the workers had over their day-to-day activities. The court will consider whether the maintenance workers were directly supervised in their work and whether their hours and schedules were under their discretion. The more control Celine Dion and other supervisors had over their work, the less likely they will be considered independent contractors exempted from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
If Celine Dion is found to have categorized her employees as exempt from overtime even though they were not, she will be liable for all back pay at time and a half as well as other damages and attorneys’ fees. She would be required to pay back payroll taxes and unemployment insurance and may also be assessed a penalty by the IRS. As the complaint alleges that Celine Dion had almost 70 workers at her Florida mansion and she sometimes required them to work over 60 hours a week, she may ultimately be facing hundreds of thousands of dollars of liability for unpaid overtime, taxes and fees. Hopefully with these high-profile celebrity overtime suits on the rise employees may begin to inform themselves of their protections under the labor laws so they can ensure that the are paid fairly for all hours they work.

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