On July 15, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed into law Assembly Bill No. 202, which amends the Labor Code and requires that professional cheerleaders be treated as employees, which means they are entitled to at least the minimum wage, overtime compensation when applicable, and other employment law protections. The law comes on the heels of a now settled lawsuit by 90 current and former Oakland Raiders Cheerleaders, who alleged that they were paid what amounted to less than $5 per hour, were required to pay out of pocket work-related expenses, and illegally had wages withheld. The law goes into effect immediately.
The law adds Section 2754 to the Labor Code and states that for a California-based professional sports team all cheerleaders are considered employees. The law defines “California-based” as a team that plays the majority of its home games in the State of California. “Professional sports team” is defined as a team at either a minor or major league level in the sports of baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey, and soccer. “Cheerleader” is defined as an individual who performs acrobatics, dance, or gymnastic exercises on a recurring basis. It does not include an individual who is not otherwise affiliated with a California-based professional sports team and is utilized during exhibitions, events, or games no more than one time in a calendar year.
Under the new law, a cheerleader will have to be treated like any other employee – meaning she or he is eligible for minimum wage, overtime compensation, paid sick leave, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, and any other benefits that the State of California requires a private employer to provide to employees. This also means cheerleaders will need to be compensated for all related time – and not just game time – that is considered working time, which will likely include practices and team-sponsored appearances. California-based professional sports team cheerleaders will also be protected by the laws against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
The California legislation is the first of its kind nationally and comes in the face of lawsuits by current and former professional cheerleaders against five NFL teams. In addition to the now-settled Raiders suit, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recently settled a lawsuit alleging that its cheerleaders were required to work unpaid hours that included practice time, charity events, running cheerleading clinics, and posing for swimsuit calendars. The cheerleaders were paid $100 per game and alleged that all of the additional, non-game time spent by them went unpaid, amounting to compensation that was well under the minimum wage. Three other suits are currently pending. In February of 2014, a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader filed a similar lawsuit, and the New York Jets were sued on similar grounds a month later. Last season, the Buffalo Bills disbanded their cheerleading squad after the team was hit with twin lawsuits contending that the team did not pay them minimum wage. Those cases are still pending. A similar bill to the California law is now pending in New York which would also make cheerleaders employees in that state.