A former household staffer and tutor for Rupert Mudoch and Wendi Deng's children is speaking out for the first time about the relentless nightmare that is working for the Murdochs: Screaming tantrums, nannies discarded by the side of the road on a whim, no benefits, unpaid overtime, young girls body-shamed by their mother—and near abandonment for workers injured on the job.
Ying-Shu Hsu spent more than year as a full-time Chinese tutor and nanny to Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng's daughters, Chloe and Grace. Six years ago, while holding then 2-year-old Chloe in her arms, she tripped over a tricycle in the Murdochs' Beverly Hills home and fractured her knee, causing permanent damage. Unable to work and cut off from workers' compensation benefits owing to the Murdochs' shoddy paperwork, Hsu was sent packing with a severance payment and told never to contact the family again. She sued the Murdochs unsuccessfully for damages in 2007 (the lawsuit has never been previously reported), and has never been able to work since. She lives off Social Security now.
Hsu's saga began in December 2004, when the 69-year-old lifelong educator (she'd previously managed a daycare in Queens) answered a want-ad for a Chinese-language tutor. She had no idea that her potential employers would be Murdoch, the media mogul worth an estimated $8 billion, and his Chinese wife of five years, Wendi Deng. She was originally hired to teach Grace and Chloe how to read and write in their mother's native language—a 40-hour-a-week, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. gig that required frequent travel with the family to the Murdochs' Beverly Hills estate and Arizona compound. But the job quickly metastasized into childcare.
"Basically, the nanny didn't do well, and Wendi told me to do this extra stuff that I wasn't supposed to do," Hsu told me in an an interview translated by her son. The Murdochs had a household staff of roughly seven or eight in New York, she told me: two secretaries, one cook, two housekeepers, a nanny, a tutor, and one part-time laundry person.
Working for Wendi, Hsu said, was like being in a "war zone": "Everyone who works for her hates her and is scared of her," she said. "When she's there, it's like a war zone."
Deng's public image is hardly demure. She came to international fame a year ago when she landed a swift and merciless blow on a protester who threw a pie at her husband during his testimony before Parliament. And given her facility with bending older married men to her will—her first husband was a married man whose family sponsored her student visa; she was 21 at the time—she has often been described as a conniving man-eater.
Deng was given to profanity-laced outbursts for seemingly minor affronts, Hsu said, often in front of her daughters. "She had a very bad temper and would get angry very easily. Once, when we were leaving the house, I forgot to bring a hair clip for one of the girls, and Wendi yelled at me. So I ran back into the house to get it, but I got the wrong one. Wendi threw it on the ground in front of the girls and everyone." On another occasion, Hsu says, after a housekeeper turned on the baseboard heating at the Murdochs' Arizona compound against Deng's orders, "she went nuts—yelling, cursing."
"She would curse like that in front of the kids," Hsu said. (That comports with what Deng told British Vogue last year: "We don't talk to them like babies. They know all about the phone hacking.")
The most drastic example of Deng's abusive behavior that Hsu could recall was the time she kicked an instransigent nanny out her chauffeur-driven car. "One of the nannies made a mistake in the car, and Wendi told the chauffeur to stop the car and told the nanny to get out and then drove off. She has a hot temper." Hsu, who couldn't recall the nature of the nanny's grievous error, said the woman considered suing the Murdochs over the incident but never did.
Deng's outbursts weren't reserved for the staff; Hsu said she also was constantly haranguing her husband in front of the help. "Murdoch is a gentleman," Hsu said. "He appreciated us at the end of the night. But she also curses Rupert all the time. A lot of F-words. She's always yelling, crying. Murdoch is the calm type."
Hsu said that, according to her colleagues on the household staff, Wendi and Rupert spent the entire evening of Christmas 2004 in an extended screaming match over the issue of whether the family's trust—which governed how control over News Corporation would be distributed after Murdoch's passing—would be amended to afford Chloe and Grace an equal share. "They were fighting all night over the estate for the kids," Hsu said. (The kids were eventually granted participation in the finances, but not the leadership, of News Corp. after a lengthy and painful negotiation between Murdoch, his ex-wife, and their adult children.)
Perhaps the most visible sign of marital discord: Murdoch and Deng frequently took to separate beds, Hsu said. "The marriage isn't great. A lot of times they slept separately."
Wendi may have even taken out her anger at her husband on the help: "The two housekeepers worked for Murdoch for many, many years, and when they got married, Wendi tried to fire them. But Rupert wouldn't let her. So when he leaves, she screams at them."
Deng, Hsu says, was notorious among her household staff for being cheap, despite her husband's fortune. Food in the refrigerator, Hsu said, was strictly labelled for Rupert and the kids and was hands off for the staff. Hsu's hours were supposed to be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but Deng frequently asked her to work later, especially when the family was travelling, and never paid her overtime. Her job included no benefits, paid vacation, or sick leave—perks that are routinely afforded to nannies in New York (and are now mandatory under a recently passed Domestic Workers Bill of Rights). When the Murdochs were away and Hsu wasn't travelling with them, she didn't get paid. Though Hsu's nominal salary at $3,000 per month totaled $36,000 per year, with unpaid vacations and time off when the Murdochs travelled without her, she ended up earning just $26,200 in 2005. For perspective, according to a 2011 survey of nanny employment practices in Brooklyn conducted by Park Slope Parents, 8 in 10 families reported continuing to pay their nanny for regular hours while they were away. And the average Brooklyn nanny received more than 11 paid days off per year.
What's more, the Murdochs' household corporation, KRM Services (as in Keith Rupert Murdoch), classified Hsu as a self-employed independent contractor despite the fact that she was clearly a household employee. According to tax documents disclosed in Hsu's lawsuit against the Murdochs, KRM Services treated Hsu as a 1099 employee and didn't withhold any taxes or pay the employer's share of her Social Security taxes in 2005. IRS guidelines make it abundantly clear that if "you can control not only what work is done" by an employee "but how it is done," then that staffer qualifies as a household employee for whom employment taxes must be paid. There is no question based on Hsu's description of her job that Deng had total control over what she did and how she did it. Indeed, during the course of Hsu's litigation, Deng filed a sworn declaration with the court affirming that she controlled the "time, manner, and place of where Ying-Shu Hsu performed her work [sic]." (To be fair, Gawker Media has some familiarity with this issue.)
Another example of Deng's cheapness: When Chloe, the younger daughter, would want to eat Hsu's lunch, Deng would give it to her and make Hsu go hungry. "When we go to the park for lunch, if Chloe wants what I'm eating I would have to give it to her. Wendi wouldn't buy me another one."
Deng's attitude toward the eating habits of Grace, the older daughter, are quite different. According to Hsu, Deng frequently chides the 10-year-old over her weight. "She tells Grace that she needs to be skinny like a movie star," Hsu said. "She limits the amount of food she can eat, and tells her that she's too heavy. She wants Grace to stay skinny like Zhang Ziyi—she always tells Grace to be more like her." Zhang Ziyi, the Chinese actress and star of Memoirs of a Geisha, is an on-again, off-again friend and business partner of Deng's.
In January 2006, while travelling with the Murdochs to their Beverly Hills estate, Hsu was working late caring for Chloe and Grace. At 5:30 p.m., Chloe demanded a certain kind of yogurt that the Murdochs had run out of. Chloe didn't believe Hsu when she told her there wasn't anymore, so Hsu carried Chloe in her arms to the refrigerator to prove it to her. Along the way, she tripped over a tricycle in the kitchen. Since she was carrying a two-year-old, Hsu couldn't maneuver her body to protect herself as she fell. She broke her kneecap.
"My bone was sticking out," she says. A housekeeper rushed her to the hospital, where doctors told her she needed surgery. But the surgeon's schedule was booked, so Hsu spent four days in excruciating pain at the Murdochs' in Beverly Hills, wearing a temporary cast and taking painkillers. "Wendi told me it was no big deal," she said. "Rupert broke his leg skiing once and he was fine."
After her surgery, Hsu recuperated at the Murdochs' for another two weeks before she was well enough to travel home on January 27. When she left, she says, Wendi promised she could come back to work as soon as she was feeling up to it. "She verbally told me, 'After you get better, you can come back,'" Hsu said. Not long after, Deng's secretary sent her a personal check from Deng for $5,000, or just under two months' salary. After that, nothing.
"She never contacted me or followed up," Hsu said. "I tried to contact her in June—I hadn't worked in almost six months. But I could only leave messages, and she never called back. In July, her secretary sent me a check for $3,000 and said, 'You're on your own. Don't bother us any more.'" At that time, Hsu was still on crutches, with two steel pins in her knee. She wasn't in much of a position to seek new employment, but felt that—despite the job's unpleasant aspects—she could have continued on with the Murdochs as Deng, she says, had promised.
In July 2006, at roughly the same time Deng's secretary gave Hsu a $3,000 brush-off, and seven months after the accident, KRM Services filed a worker's compensation claim on Hsu's behalf with the New York Workers' Compensation Board. If successful, that would have accomplished two things: 1) indemnified the Murdochs against any legal claim by Hsu, since under New York law workers who are covered by a workers' compensation policy can't sue their employers over work-related accidents; and 2) provided Hsu a weekly stipend of up to two-thirds of her salary, depending on the extent of her injuries. (The medical costs, which totaled more than $60,000, were covered under her husband's health insurance policy.)
But the claim wasn't successful, according to documents filed in Hsu's complaint against the Murdochs. In March 2007, the Board wrote to KRM Services that there was "no record that you have complied with Section 50 of the Workers' Compensation Law, which provides that you must carry workers' compensation insurance for your employees." KRM responded that it had indeed purchased insurance—but in March 2007, more than a year after the accident. The Board found that the Murdochs couldn't prove that they had purchased insurance for Hsu that was in effect on January 9, 2006. So she got nothing.
In December 2007, Hsu and her husband filed a complaint for unspecified damages against KRM Services, Murdoch, and Deng in Queens County Supreme Court, claiming negligence. The litigation dragged on for years, during which time attorneys for the Murdochs repeatedly claimed, and repeatedly failed to prove to the satisfaction of the court and the Workers' Compensation Board, that it had, indeed, purchased insurance for Hsu. All the while, Hsu—whom everybody agreed should have been entitled to some compensation during her long rehabilitation—got nothing beyond her ad hoc severance from Deng. Instead of acknowledging a paperwork error with their insurance and settling the case for the cost of a few of their frequent private jet flights, the Murdochs used every delay tactic at their disposal to draw out the case. Finally—and, to Hsu, suspiciously—in January of last year, the Murdochs presented "previously unavailable evidence" establishing that they had, after all, had their insurance in order.
Almost sadistically, the Murdochs then began demanding that Hsu pay their court costs for the four years of litigation, an astronomical expense that would have bankrupted her. This despite the fact that the lawsuit dragged on that long because of the Murdochs' failure to properly document their coverage. In March of last year, the complaint was finally dismissed by the judge, who rejected the Murdochs demand for costs.
In a statement released through a publicist, the Murdochs declined to address any of Hsu's specific claims: "Ms. Hsu is a disgruntled former employee who worked for the Murdoch family for a year more than six years ago. The Murdochs' workers' compensation insurance policy covered her injury and offered her compensation, but Ms. Hsu chose instead to pursue legal action. A state court dismissed her claims, ruling that they were 'inadmissible' and 'unpersuasive.' Having failed in court, she has apparently turned to the media with unfounded and untrue accusations. We will not dignify them with comment."
Through it all, Hsu got nothing aside from a total of $8,000—roughly two-and-a-half months salary—in severance from Deng. Five years after the accident, she walks with a limp. Throughout her long rehabilitation, during which she was severely impaired and in pain, she got none of the workers' compensation benefits to which she as entitled. By the time evidence of her coverage emerged four years later, she had recovered to the point where a doctor no longer found her to be impaired enough for benefits. She moved to Las Vegas, gave up on pursuing anything from workers' compensation, and lives off her Social Security benefits. She feels embittered at both the Murdochs and her own lawyer, James Napoli, whom she feels abandoned her after the Murdochs' belated discovery. And she suspects—without evidence—that Napoli folded in the face of a powerful adversary. Napoli did not return a phone message.
Hsu never spoke to Deng again after the accident. Today, she has a simple message for her: "Treat people fairly and nicely. That's how you keep people. She's mean."
[Image by Jim Cooke; photo of Hsu courtesy Kenny Hsu, photo of Murdochs via Getty]