Written by Jillian Collins
Two NFL teams are facing wage and hour class action lawsuits filed by their cheerleaders. On January 22, an Oakland Raiderette sued the Raiders organization on behalf of herself and current and former cheerleaders alleging that the Raiders violated a slew of California labor laws. And last week, a member of the Cincinnati Bengals cheerleading team, the “Ben-Gals,” sued the Bengals organization alleging class-wide wage and hour violations. NFL franchises (and other sports teams) must take notice.
The Raiders pay the Raiderettes $125 a game, which equates to $1,250 for the 10-home game season. The lawsuit alleges that when you include hours spent practicing, at non-game events, photo shoots, and additional hours working on game days before and after the game, Oakland pays them only about $5.00 per hour, well below California’s minimum wage, and fails to pay them overtime for any day they work over 8 hours. The Raiders also do not pay the cheerleaders until the end of the NFL season. According to the Raiderettes’ contract, the Raiders require the cheerleaders to attend a minimum of 10 charity appearances without any pay and they do not receive any portion of the revenues from promotional merchandise featuring the Raiderettes. The Raiders also require them to pay for their own hair and makeup for games, events and photo shoots, and the team docks pay for, among other things, forgetting to bring the correct pom-poms to practice. Based on these pay practices, the plaintiff Raiderette alleges violations for failing to pay them at the minimum wage and overtime, failing to provide meal breaks, withholding wages for months and forcing them to pay certain expenses.
The allegations in the Ben-Gals lawsuit are similar. The plaintiff Ben-Gal alleges that the Bengals paid her a total of $855 for 300 hours spent performing, practicing and attending events resulting in a hourly rate of just $2.85 per hour. She also alleges that the Bengals required her and other cheerleaders to pay for their own transportation to and from mandatory appearances, specialized clothing (i.e. a bathing suit for the team calendar), makeup (i.e. fake eyelashes), skin tanning, and other required gear. She claims class-wide failures to pay Ben-Gals at the minimum wage, to pay wages on a timely basis and to keep accurate wage and hour records.
Not all teams are alike, though. The Ben-Gal lawsuit points out that the Seattle Seahawks organization, fresh off its Mintz Levin-predicted-Super Bowl championship, compensates the team’s cheerleaders, the Sea Gals, for all hours worked and at the applicable wage rate.
In addition to these lawsuits, the U.S. Department of Labor is now investigating the Oakland Raiders, which comes on the heels of the Department’s investigation into two Major League Baseball Teams’ unpaid internship programs. And two weeks ago, a minor league baseball player filed the first ever class action lawsuit against Major League Baseball alleging minimum wage violations. Team employees are seeking relief from professional sports leagues and their teams that operate, generally, as highly profitable enterprises. The NFL is the most profitable (~$1.3 billion annually). The Raiders, who have not made the NFL playoffs in more than a decade, still remain profitable on an annual basis. We expect the number of these types of lawsuits and investigations to grow. Like any employer, professional (and other) sports teams should evaluate their pay practices to comply with applicable federal, state, and local wage and hour laws.