Over these last years, there have been a number of lawsuits by domestic employees against their employers and I have defended some of those. They present a unique kind of case as these domestic servants are usually on very close terms with their employers, not the typical employer-employee relationship, but then, something happens and it goes south. A recent illustration of this is a real estate executive who is now responding to an overtime lawsuit from his housekeeper of many years. The case is entitled Lopez v. Barnett et al., and was filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York.
The plaintiff claims that she was paid on a weekly basis and worked many overtime hours, including her allegation that she sometimes worked more than eighty (80) hours per week. The Complaint alleges that “throughout her employment, defendants required Lopez to work, on average, between 65 and 86 hours per week, yet paid her on a weekly salary basis that failed to compensate her at 1.5 times her regular hourly rate for hours worked over 40 each week. The housekeeper worked as a live-in from 2010-2017 and then as a regular employee from 2018-2020.
The plaintiff had to clean nine bedrooms and eleven bathrooms; she also did the laundry, ran errands, as well as cooking and cleaning up from dinner. She also cared for three of the ten family children. She claims she started work in the morning and would work through the day, into the night many times, sometimes finishing almost at midnight.
The suit is brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as the New York Labor Law, the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights and the New York Wage Theft Prevention Act. Her attorney
Louis Pechman, gave his view on the situation, asserting that “over the last few years we have seen an uptick in cases involving domestic workers employed by high-net-worth families who are not paid overtime even though they are working extraordinary hours. Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers can be paid on a salary regardless of hours worked.”
The way to defend these cases is to attack the often inflated claims of the hours “actually” worked. It has been my experience, in defending these cases that the domestic worker has large chunks of time during the day in which they can follow their own pursuits and are not working or expected to be working. I think big holes can be punched into these extreme claims, if you know how to use the hammer.