NFL Football: The Pain Behind the Pom-Poms Part 2

NFL Football The Pain Behind the Pom-Poms Part 2 by Alan Krystal

{3:42 minutes to read} In our last article, we talked about a series of lawsuits brought against various NFL teams by their cheerleaders regarding their status as employees or independent contractors. All cases were settled out of court for relatively large sums of money.

One presently pending lawsuit is a class action that was originally brought by five former members of the Buffalo Bills’ cheerleading squad known as the Jills. The suit not only alleged that they were not paid minimum wage, but were forced to wear bikinis at an annual team-sponsored golf tournament; plus, some had to go into a dunk tank where they were dunked by tournament participants. The Jills had to abide by a set of rules that addressed a myriad of situations, including:

  • General hygiene and body maintenance;
  • How to speak to fans;
  • How much bread to eat at a formal dinner;
  • How to properly eat soup; and even
  • How to properly wash “intimate areas;” and
  • How often to change tampons.

Moreover, Jills had to undergo weekly “physique evaluations” during which defendants’ representatives tested the Jills’ bodies stomach, arms, legs, hips, and buttocks for “jiggling” while doing jumping jacks to determine excess body fat. The physique evaluations were used to determine whether or not any particular Jill would be allowed to perform at the Bills’ next home game.

The Bills claimed that the Jills were independent contractors, and that the Jills organization is an independent service provider for the Buffalo Bills. There was a provision in the agreement and code of conduct that stated that the cheerleaders were not employees of the Buffalo Bills, and that they were independent contractors responsible for their own expenses, health insurance and taxes.

In January 2016, the Erie County Court granted a motion to certify a class of all Buffalo Bills cheerleaders since April 2008, appointing plaintiffs as representatives for the class, and authorizing the distribution of notice to the class members, thereby allowing all of the aforementioned cheerleaders to join the lawsuit.

The Court found plaintiff submitted evidence that “the members of the Jills cheerleader squad were required to work for the defendants not as employees, but rather as independent contractors and not paid by the Bills or the other defendants, when in fact they were employees of defendants.” The Court had previously permitted the plaintiff to add the NFL as a defendant based upon the NFL’s participation in the classification of the Jills as independent contractors.

If this litigation does proceed to conclusion, the decision will shed additional light as to the rights of cheerleaders and independent contractor classification issues, as the Bills clearly tried to evade employer responsibility but having the cheerleaders contract with a separate entity. How this issue is addressed may have implications in other independent contractor situations. However, given the history of prior lawsuits, the Bills and the NFL may eventually reach a settlement to avoid further adverse publicity.

Alan Krystal


Alan Krystal

Alan H. Krystal, P.C.
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