NFL Football: The Pain Behind the Pom-Poms

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

{3:36 minutes to read} As another NFL season begins, the attention of the fans turns to the excitement of the game and the overall football experience. Part of that NFL experience is the team cheerleaders. On the surface, being a cheerleader would appear to be a glamorous job. But to paraphrase the late Freddie Mercury, it’s often not a bed of roses nor a pleasure cruise.

The reality of the situation is that many NFL cheerleaders face the same wage and hour challenges that workers in less glamorous jobs face. But in recent years, cheerleaders have taken action to assert their rights.

January 2014 – Oakland Raiders

In January 2014, former Raiderette cheerleaders instituted a class action suit against the Oakland Raiders in Alameda County Superior Court alleging that they failed to pay minimum wage, withheld wages for months, and failed to reimburse them for business expenses. The Raiders claimed that the cheerleaders were independent contractors, and they were paid $125 per home game pursuant to an agreement that included hours of unpaid rehearsals and charity and commercial appearances. Eight months later, the Raiders settled the lawsuit for $1.25 million.

The following year, Governor Brown signed legislation requiring all California sports teams to classify cheerleaders as employees, and to:

  • Pay them at least minimum wage;
  • Pay them every two weeks;
  • Pay Workers Compensation; and
  • Reimburse them for work-related expenses.

May 2014 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In May 2014, 94 Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders filed a lawsuit against the team alleging violations of federal and state wage laws. The lead plaintiff alleged she was paid $100 for home games, $25 to $50 an hour at team-sponsored corporate events, but was not paid for outside events or practices. In March 2015, the parties reached a settlement in the sum of $825,000.

January 2016 – The New York Jets

In January 2016, the New York Jets settled a class action lawsuit by 52 cheerleaders alleging they were paid $150 per game but were not compensated for practice time and promotional appearances, nor were they reimbursed for expenses like hair straightening (which was required by the team). The plaintiff’s attorney stated when the unpaid hours were factored in, the cheerleaders were paid $3.77 per hour. The Jets agreed to pay $324,000 to settle the lawsuit. In addition, legislation was introduced in the New York State Senate that would grant cheerleader employees the same protections conferred by state labor laws to other employees. That bill was in committee as of this writing.

A similar lawsuit was settled by the Cincinnati Bengals in October 2015 in the sum of $255,000.

In Part 2 of this series, we will discuss a pending lawsuit brought against the Buffalo Bills by their cheerleading squad known as the Jills. How this issue is addressed may have implications in other independent contractor situations.

Alan Krystal


Alan Krystal

Alan H. Krystal, P.C.
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