Across the nation, cheerleaders for National Football League (NFL) teams are going to court, alleging that the teams they cheer for are violating labor laws. The first woman to sue an NFL team for wage and hour violations was former Raiderette Lacy T. Subsequently, a complaint was filed against the Cincinnati Bengals, alleging that the Ben-Gals were paid only $2.85 an hour. A lawsuit against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers alleges its cheerleaders were paid less than $2 an hour, and weren’t paid for required community appearances and charity events. The New York Jets are also facing a lawsuit, which alleges that although its cheerleaders were paid $150 a game, they were not compensated for mandatory promotional appearances, practices, or expenses. To get ahead of this issue, California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez introduced Assembly Bill 202, which if passed would require the NFL team owners to treat cheerleaders of professional sports teams as employees under California law.
For decades, most professional cheerleaders have been categorized as independent contractors or volunteers. Many were told that their presence on a cheering team should be considered an honor and a privilege. Now, state courts across the country are finding that if a team exercises a certain amount of control over its cheerleaders, the team should treat and pay them like employees.
NFL teams have gotten away with underpaying, or not paying, cheerleaders for years. Some cheerleaders have even been forced to spend significant personal funds and work unpaid overtime. These practices would normally be illegal under current labor laws, but were found to be commonplace pressures on teams’ cheerleaders despite the tremendous profits being gained by the teams they cheered for. California Assembly Bill 202 seeks to protect cheer athletes in the state from workplace abuses and bring equity to the multibillion-dollar professional sports landscape.
Sacramento, CA 95821