“Buffalo Jills” Have Little to Cheer About
NFL cheerleaders have been garnering a lot of attention lately, but probably not in the way that their teams had intended. On Tuesday, members of the “Buffalo Jills” filed suit against the Buffalo Bills, Citadel Communications Company, and Stejon Productions. Since 1986, management of the cheerleading team has rested in private entities. Allegedly, those entities have misclassified employees as independent contractors, failed to meet New York minimum wage requirements, and failed to reimburse the Jills’ numerous expenses. The complaint follows in the wake of other high-profile claims made by cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders and the Cincinnati Bengals
According to the complaint, the Jills are required to attend all Buffalo Bills’ games, in addition to practices, rehearsals, fittings, preparations, drills, photo sessions, meetings, workouts, engagements, and other functions. On game days, the Jills spend eight hours working. Surprisingly, their only game day compensation comes in the form of a free ticket and parking pass. As indicated by the Jills Handbook, “each Jill was also required to make between 20-35 appearances throughout the year at corporate, community, and charity events, the majority of which were unpaid.” In total, it is estimated that the Jills work 20 hours of uncompensated work per week. “This equals 840 hours of unpaid work per woman, per year.”
While the suit is aimed at recovering unpaid wages, the complaint also elucidates a demeaning and hyper-sexualized workplace environment. The Jills apparently must endure a “Jiggle test” and are given a rule book explaining how to properly wash “intimate areas.” Allegedly, at an annual golf tournament, the Jills were forced to wear a bikini and “subjected to additional demeaning treatment, including degrading sexual comments and inappropriate touching. Oftentimes, the Jills were forced to sit on participants’ laps because there was not enough seats in the golf carts.”
This type of unrewarded labor may seem dismal to many, yet there have been indications that such an arrangement is not barred by federal law. Jose Carnevali, spokesman for the San Francisco office of the Department of Labor, recently stated that a DOL investigation into the Raiders cheerleaders had been closed after concluding that the “Raiders qualified for an exemption from federal minimum wages and overtime-pay requirements.” Specifically, Section 13(a)(3) of the Fair Labor Standards Act provides an exemption for any employee of “an establishment which is an amusement or recreational establishment, if (A) it does not operate for more than seven months in any calendar year”, or (B) its average receipts for any six months of the year were not more than 1/3 of its average receipts for the other six months of the year.
“Seasonal” cheerleader performances may be exempt from federal law, but this does not foreclose the possibility for success on state law grounds. In any event, the damage to the reputations of these NFL teams may ultimately prove more harmful than a loss in court.
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