Two months ago, I blogged about an Ohio minimum wage class action lawsuit filed against the Cincinnati Bengals by one of the team’s former cheerleaders. I predicted we might soon see more class action lawsuits filed by other professional cheerleaders because “similar minimum wage and overtime class actions tend to come in bunches.” Well maybe I should buy a lottery ticket, because my prediction came true.
On Tuesday, five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders sued the team and the cheerleading squad’s management company under New York’s minimum wage law. According to the lawsuit, the cheerleaders—known as the “Buffalo Jills”—were improperly classified as independent contractors rather than employees, and therefore not paid for hundreds of hours of work per year. Because the cheerleaders were not paid for practice or the numerous community appearances they were required to make, the lawsuit claims they were paid less than minimum wage for all hours worked. In response to the lawsuit, the management company for the Jills announced they are indefinitely suspending operations. To be honest, I’m not sure what that accomplishes (other than maybe cutting off any ongoing minimum wage violations).
Although this case arises under New York law, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and Ohio law require payment of minimum wage as well. As I wrote in the prior blog on this issue, covered employers are generally required to pay non-exempt employees at least the minimum wage for every hour worked. Besides the minimum wage claim, this new lawsuit also brings related claims for failure to timely pay wages and unlawful wage deductions. Both practices are illegal under Ohio law, and such claims are commonly brought in minimum wage and overtime lawsuits.
From the outset, it looks as though the lawsuit may hinge on a similar question as the Bengals lawsuit: are the cheerleaders “employees” or “independent contractors” under the applicable minimum wage and overtime law? My initial guess from the allegations in the Complaint (assuming they are true) is that the Jills—like the Ben-Gals—are probably employees, and thus entitled to minimum wage.
In addition to the wage and hour issues, however, this Jills lawsuit also has sexual component. It alleges the cheerleaders were subject to “jiggle tests” used to evaluate their physiques, as well as groping and inappropriate sexual comments at community events. That may not come as a shock, but sexual harassment is illegal whether the victim works as a cheerleader, corporate executive, or anything else. That said, these allegations appear to have been added for factual background, as I do not see a separate claim for sexual harassment actually made in the lawsuit.
This is now the third wage and hour lawsuit recently filed by cheerleaders against an NFL team (all from AFC teams strangely). Whether there will be more coming from either NFL or NBA cheerleaders remains to be seen. I won’t feel like Nostradamus if we do see more though. In the meantime, as always, Go Browns!