Four former cheerleaders for the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills have filed a lawsuit against the team, alleging that it “exploited the women by failing to pay them in accordance with New York State minimum wage laws,” WGRZ.com reported Tuesday:
According to a press release issued by attorneys from Dolce Panepinto, who are representing the plaintiffs, the team “exploited the women by failing to pay them in accordance with New York State minimum wage laws.”
The suit alleges the team and others named as defendants failed to pay the Jills the mandatory minimum wage for their “extensive work on game day and at various community events”, and claims that in some cases, members of the Jills performed hundreds of hours of work each year, for which they were paid well below the state’s mandatory minimum wage.
The lawsuit names both the Bills and a production company that manages Bills cheerleaders, who are known as the Jills. Though the Bills have outsourced management of the Jills for decades, they are named in the suit because “they’re certainly the ones in control,” the plaintiffs’ attorney told WGRZ. The team told the news station that it “is our organizational policy not to comment on pending litigation.”
The complaint asserts that “between game performances, practices, rehearsals, and appearances, each individual Jill provides approximately 20 hours of unpaid labor per week,” which “equals 840 hours of unpaid work per woman, per year.” The four plaintiffs were paid different amounts in different seasons based on the number of game and non-game appearances they made, and pay for the four plaintiffs ranged anywhere from $105 for one to $806 for another. According to the complaint, “plaintiffs’ wages for all of the years they worked as Jills were substantially below the minimum wage required by New York State law.” The New York minimum wage was $7.25 for part of the period in question; on December 31, 2013, the state raised its minimum wage to $8.00 per hour.
The complaint also asserts that the Jills were also “subjected to further economic loss by way of penalties levied against the Jills for various infractions,” and they also were required to spend their own money for mandatory expenses required for the job. The cheerleaders, the complaint says, had to pay for their own uniform at a cost of approximately $650 and had to pay for their own hairstyling, nails, and travel. They were not paid for the time they spent traveling, according to the lawsuit. The cheerleaders were required to purchase between $500 and $750 worth of the team’s annual Jills calendar with their own money, which could only be recouped by selling the calendars.
The former Jills are the third team’s cheerleaders to sue over wage violations since the beginning of 2014. In January, former Oakland Raiders cheerleaders sued the team, alleging minimum wage violations and wage theft. According to that suit, the former Raiderettes said that they were paid just $1,250 per season (less than $5 per hour worked) and weren’t compensated for overtime, travel, or other expenses. In February, former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders sued the team on similar grounds, and their claims were even worse: one plaintiff said the cheerleaders were paid just $855 for more than 300 hours worked, or about $2.85 an hour. The Ohio minimum wage is $7.85.
Minimum wage and wage theft allegations are becoming more common in professional sports. In 2013, Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants settled a claim with the Department of Labor and agreed to pay more than $540,000 in back wages to clubhouse staff. Just two months later, the Giants were back under federal investigation, along with the Miami Marlins, over allegations that they had improperly utilizing intern labor. Major League Baseball warned its teams in an internal memo that such violations were “endemic to our industry.” A group of former minor league baseball players sued MLB in February alleging minimum wage violations and wage theft.
Overall wage theft claims increased by 400 percent between 2000 and 2012. But most wage theft incidents go unreported and unpunished. As the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell wrote this month, when it comes to wage theft and the minimum wage, “Employers are stealing from their employees, often with impunity.”