A California state representative who is a former college cheerleader this week introduced legislation that would legally classify the state’s NFL cheerleaders as employees, making them subject to state minimum wage and employment laws.
State Rep. Lorena Gonzalez (D), who cheered at Stanford University, introduced the legislation after a flurry of recent lawsuits from former NFL cheerleaders alleging that teams violated state and federal minimum wage laws. Former cheerleader Lacy T. filed the original lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders in January, alleging that the team paid her and other cheerleaders the equivalent of less than $5 per hour for cheering during games, practicing, and making required appearances at other events. The suit also asserted that the Raiders had violated overtime and other fair labor laws. NFL teams have classified cheerleaders as independent contractors, though the suits have disputed that classification.
“NFL teams and their billionaire owners have used professional cheerleaders as part of the game day experience for decades,” Gonzalez said in a news release. “They have capitalized on their talents without providing even the most basic workplace protections like a minimum wage. If the guy selling you the beer deserves a minimum wage, so does the woman entertaining you on the field. All work is dignified and cheerleaders deserve the respect of these basic workplace protections.”
After the Raiders suit, similar lawsuits followed against the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those suits also alleged that cheerleaders were paid significantly less than state and federal minimum wages.
Lacy T. and other former cheerleaders involved in the Raiders lawsuit reached a $1.25 million settlement with the franchise in September that would compensate them for some lost wages. A judge has not yet granted the settlement final approval.
Another former Raiders cheerleader filed a separate class action suit against the team this week, the San Jose Mercury News reported. That suit alleges not only that the team failed to pay minimum wages but that it also prevented cheerleaders from taking advantage of media exposure opportunities that could have earned them other pay.
Cheerleaders have said in the lawsuits that in addition to not making the minimum wage, they often had to spend thousands of dollars of their own money on requirements for the job, including hair, makeup, and costumes. The suit against Buffalo also said that the cheerleaders were judged heavily on their appearance and were often subject to “jiggle tests” to make sure they met body requirements. They were often subject to fines for failing to meet certain requirements, according to the suits.
The Raiders said in July that they would pay current cheerleaders the California minimum wage during the 2014-2015 season. The other lawsuits are still ongoing.
California has been home to other wage theft claims in professional sports as well: in 2013, the Department of Labor ordered Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants to pay employees more than $545,000 in backwages for violating minimum wage and overtime laws.