Two Raiderettes, cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, are suing the Oakland Raiders Club for violation of California labor laws. Their case pertains to issues already receiving national attention, such as employers misclassifying employees in order to withhold overtime pay. Specifically, the women claim the Raiders Club violated minimum wage and overtime law, withheld pay, failed to reimburse business expenses, and deducted wages. According to their suit, their contract calls for $125 per home game, or $1,250 per season. The problem, they say, is that they work nine hours on each game day, must attend several rehearsals each week, and are required to attend charity events. Counting those unpaid hours, that amounts to $5 an hour, falling below California’s $8 minimum wage. Unfortunately, the Raiderettes may not have a chance to take their case all the way to trial and potentially receive damages for withheld pay.
The Raiders claim that the cheerleaders’ contract requires arbitration. Arbitration is a kind of alternative dispute resolution which, unlike litigation, takes place out of court. An impartial third party known as an arbitrator is selected, they agree in advance to comply with the arbitrator’s award, and they participate in a hearing at which both sides can present evidence. The arbitrator’s decision will be final, and courts rarely reexamine it. Most employment contracts have arbitration clauses.
The Raiders have asked Alameda County Superior Court Judge Wayne Carvill to put the lawsuit on hold and require the Raiderettes to plead their case with the NFL commissioner, who has been chosen as the arbitrator. It is questionable whether the NFL commissioner is impartial on this matter. Should he hear the case, he will not be held to strictly enforce procedural rules and state employment laws.
In California, court or have other defects. The Raiderettes basic employment rights likely depends on whether the arbitration clause will be found to be unconscionable.