Football fans around the globe may be rejoicing at the official start of the NFL season, but the cheering may be somewhat less than usual this year. That’s because a number of current and former NFL cheerleaders have filed lawsuits in Florida, New Jersey, New York, California and other states for violations of state and federal wage and hour laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The cheerleaders are claiming they were significantly underpaid—or in some cases not paid at all—for their services, which include performing during games, rehearsing prior to games, and attending community events. Teams that have been sued include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals.
In the Florida Complaint, plaintiff Manouchcar Pierre-Val filed a proposed federal class action seeking to represent a class of cheerleaders who worked for the Tampa Bay Bucs within the last three years, and who were allegedly not compensated at the required minimum wages due under the FLSA. The lawsuit claims that the cheerleaders were paid only $100 per game for an average of 8 home games per season, plus limited wages for appearances made at paid corporate events. However, according to the complaint, the cheerleaders actually worked many more hours each week and each year for which they were not properly compensated as required by federal and Florida law. Plaintiff Pierre-Val alleges she received about $2.00 per hour for all of her services.
Other lawsuits filed in federal and state courts allege similar minimum wage violations, as the plaintiff in Brenneman v. Cincinnati Bengals, Inc. (S.D. Oh., Feb. 11, 2014) claims her hourly wage equaled approximately $2.85, while the plaintiff in Krystal C. v. New York Jets LLC (N.J. Super. Ct., Bergen Co., May 6, 2014) claims cheerleaders received $150 per game and $100 for special events, but no pay for time spent practicing or traveling, nor for mandatory time spent on uniform maintenance. Based on her actual hours, the plaintiff in the Jets case claims that she was only paid $3.77 per hour.
For other at least one other team sued in a similar lawsuit, it could be worse. As reported by attorney Vincent Antoniello with the Resnick Law Group, P.C., a lawsuit filed in New York state court against the Buffalo Bills, captioned Jaclyn S., et al v. Buffalo Bills, Inc., et al, No. 804088/2014, complaint (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Erie Co., Apr. 22, 2014), claims that cheerleaders were required to submit to a weekly “jiggle test,” and that they could face monetary penalties for failing.
It will of course take time for these cases to wind their way through the various courts, and whether any of these lawsuits will be successful remains to be seen. However, with separate pressures on the NFL to properly address (and compensate players for) concussions and other serious injuries, as well as the recent controversies regarding domestic violence by NFL players, all is not exactly rosy so far this season. No doubt that the labor practices of NFL teams will continue to be scrutinized carefully and the smiling faces of cheerleaders on the sidelines this season may be misleading.
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