NFL Faces Lawsuits and Legislative Crackdowns Over the Way Cheerleaders are Paid

The National Football League faces a growing backlash over the way cheerleaders are compensated and the reason for it will sound very familiar to regular readers of Construction Citizen. Over the years, Construction Citizen has highlighted the practice of worker misclassification in our industry. Now other sectors of the economy are dealing with the issue in a variety of ways. Our industry insider Jim Kollaer noted just this week that the popular ride-sharing company Uber is under the legal microscope for whether its drivers should be classified as employees or independent contractors.

In the case of NFL cheerleaders, at least five lawsuits have been filed including one against the Oakland Raiders. The Oakland Raiderettes settled that lawsuit with the team’s owners for a reported $1.5 million.

Following the settlement, legislation was filed at California’s capitol in Sacramento to help ensure NFL cheerleaders receive at least minimum wage, overtime, and sick leave when working for teams in that state. The San Jose Mercury News spoke with the attorney for the cheerleaders:

"It's nice to have clarifying legislation, but I don't think it changes the state of the law at all," said attorney Sharon Vinick, who represented former Oakland Raiders cheerleaders in a lawsuit against the team.

Raiders cheerleaders were paid $125 per home game, or $1,250 per season, in a contract that included hours of unpaid rehearsals and charity and commercial appearances, Vinick said. That translated to less than $5 an hour.

Vinick reached a $1.25 million settlement last year on behalf of dozens of Raiderettes who worked for the team from 2010 to 2013. She rejected the team's classification of the cheerleaders as independent contractors, saying the team decided what dances they performed and music they used and set strict requirements for them.

Vinick also rejected arguments that the women were receiving exposure that could open up opportunities in modeling or other fields.

"If you are a young starting quarterback, you get lot of notoriety for that, but you also get paid for that work," she said. "The fact that the women might get some opportunities doesn't justify not paying them."

If the situation isn't resolved by 2017, legislation could be filed in Texas as well.

"The NFL makes millions of dollars off these women, but yet they are, on average, paid $70 and $150 a game,” said Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, who has taken up the cause in Texas. “That's it, and that's not fair,” she said. Gonzalez has helped to lead the charge against wage theft in construction and other industries in the last few years at the Texas Capitol.

When lawmakers from other states approached her about the issue of wage theft and misclassification of NFL cheerleaders, Rep. Gonzalez said “it made perfect sense” to join their coalition.

Gonzalez pointed out that NFL cheerleaders usually pay for their own uniforms, their makeup, their hair styling, and incur other expenses for which they are often not reimbursed. "They're actually paying to make money for the NFL," Gonzalez said. "It's a misclassification of what they're doing and they're just exploiting that," Gonzalez said.

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