Why it matters: Are National Football League cheerleaders employees or independent contractors? According to a new complaint filed by an Oakland Raider Raiderette, the football team violates California wage orders and employment laws in a myriad of ways. A flat rate per game results in payment of less than $5 per hour, the suit alleges, and doesn’t take into account time spent rehearsing, performing at charity events, and participating in the annual swimsuit photo shoot. Raiderettes also incur work-related costs that are not reimbursed – such as false eyelashes and yoga mats – and the team neglects to pay the cheer squad at least twice a month as required by law, instead withholding pay until the end of the season. Other groups of workers have had success in establishing themselves as employees and not independent contractors – it remains to be seen if NFL cheerleaders will be next. The lawsuit gained traction when a spokesperson for the San Francisco office of the U.S. Department of Labor confirmed that the agency is investigating the plaintiff’s claims.

Detailed Discussion

Lacy T. worked as a Raiderette, a member of the Oakland Raiders’ cheer squad, for the 2013-2014 football season. She signed a written employment contract that she would be paid a flat fee of $125 per home game, or $1,250 per season.

The contract set forth several requirements for all Raiderettes: they must attend all preseason, regular season, and postseason home games; they must attend and participate in all practices, rehearsals, fittings, preparations, drills, photo sessions, meetings, and workouts. Other events or functions could also have compulsory attendance; on average, the cheer squad members were expected to participate in 10 charitable appearances and one appearance for Raiders’ ticket sales.

Raiderettes were responsible for additional expenses such as travel to appearances, the purchase of yoga mats, false eyelashes, and the use of a hairstylist selected by the team.

According to Lacy’s complaint, the contract “is replete with provisions, which, on their face, violate California law.” The flat rate per game does not reflect the fact that Raiderettes work approximately nine hours on a game day nor does it include all of the other time spent at rehearsals and appearances, she charged.

State law was also violated when the team neglected to provide meal and rest breaks on game days and did not reimburse the cheerleaders for their expenses, which Lacy estimated cost her $650 over the course of the season.

Making matters worse: Raiderettes can be “fined” for infractions of squad rules – such as wearing the wrong workout clothing to rehearsals – which can decrease their compensation even more, Lacy argued.

The Raiders further violate California wage orders by withholding payment for the Raiderettes until the end of the season, according to the complaint, instead of paying the cheerleaders on an at least twice-monthly basis.

The suit, filed as a putative class action, seeks payment for unpaid expenses, minimum wage and overtime violations, and meal and rest break violations.

To read the complaint in Lacy T. v. The Oakland Raiders, click here.