More than half a year after bringing a groundbreaking, class-action class action lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders for wage theft, two cheerleaders have been awarded a $1.25-million settlement from the NFL team. The outcome was announced this week by wage and hour violation attorneys.
Earlier this year, the two former Raiderettes alleged that the Oakland football team violated a whole set of federal and California state labor laws, including failure to meet the minimum wage, withholding wages over illegal periods of time (sometimes months) and refusal to reimburse cheerleaders for their business-related expenses.
Former NFL cheerleader Lacy T., framed the matter eloquently in her public statement: “I know we’re just cheerleaders to people, but we’re low-wage workers working for a billion-dollar industry,” she said, linking the struggles of her co-workers to millions of low-wage workers across the U.S. at a moment where everyone from Walmart employees to fast food workers are stating national strikes for a living wage and basic workplace benefits.
The NFL compensation fiasco has ben in the media spotlight for over a year now. Just this past July, the Raiders silently admitted their transgressions by offering their new cheerleading squad a contract with almost tripled the former rate of pay. Rather than making a mere $125 per game in a single paycheck delivered at the end of the season, Raiderettes will earn a (whopping!) $9 an hour from now on, plus overtime, for the estimated 350 hours each performer puts in each year, including rehearsals, practices and mandatory community and charity appearances. This raises their yearly compensation from about $1,250 to nearly $3,200.
Raiders cheerleaders will also now be reimbursed for business expenses and mileage; formerly, the dancers were left with the bill themselves. Moreover, they will be paid every two weeks now, in compliance with state law, rather than in a single lump sum after the season’s last game. For the first time, they will be given a ten-minute break while working during games.
Finally, the team was exposed for illegally deducting wages for small “infractions” like arriving to practice a few minutes late, painting their nails the wrong color or bringing the incorrect type of pom poms to rehearsals.
Employment attorneys for the Raiderettes arranged a settlement that will also cover any cheerleader who has been with the team since the 2010 football season. Those cheerleaders will be given $2,500 in back pay for the 2013-14 season, plus another $6,000 in back pay and penalties for each one of the 3 seasons prior to that.
Nearly 90 women will receive checks, including a handful who were upset that the suit had been brought since it tarnished the team’s image. Lacy T. and Sarah G., the original plaintiffs, will receive an additional $10,000 for initiating the lawsuit. In order to protect themselves from overzealous fans, cheerleaders generally do not make their last names public; the court has also honored the request and kept their full names private.
Lacy, 28, worked as an NFL cheerleader for only a single season and then was shunned by her teammates when she filed the lawsuit. She responded to the news saying “I’m so excited; I feel a sense of satisfaction knowing this long journey is over and will end happily for 90 women. I feel very proud about that … we’re low-wage workers working for a billion-dollar industry. It shows everyone that one little girl who stood up and said, ‘This is not right,’ changed the way the Raiders do business.”
The effect this Raiders settlement will have on other wage-theft lawsuits brought by NFL cheerleaders is still unknown. The Cincinnatti Bengals have similar cases pending, along with the Buffalo Bills, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Jets. There is also a second lawsuit against the Raiders currently underway; unlike the first, the NFL itself has been named as a defendant. In court documents, the NFL aggressively refuted the assertion that it has any involvement or jurisdiction over the relationship between cheerleaders and their teams.
“If there are any teams out there that have not changed their policy,” said Levy, “I hope they realize it’s going to be far less expensive for them to do that than to continue with the wage theft.”