NFL Cheerleaders get smart and sue for wages

Cheerleaders finally get smart

New Orleans Saints v Dallas CowboysWhat began as an isolated incident has become an epidemic. The Buffalo Jills became the third NFL cheerleading squad in the past four months to sue over wages – or lack thereof – and working conditions.

Lawsuits have also been filed by the Raiderettes against the Oakland Raiders and the Ben-Gals against the Cincinnati Bengals. All three suits detail the lack of compensation, strict club control over dress and appearance and the imposition of fines and other penalties for any rule violations. Rather than the glitter and glamour depicted on television and described on team websites, cheerleading, at least NFL-style, is nothing more than a scam perpetrated on naive young women and an unsuspecting public.

While the cheerleaders themselves are underpaid, they generate millions for their employers. A 2003 article in Forbes estimated that cheerleaders generated a minimum of $1 million per year for their teams. That amount has surely increased over the past decade. The NFL should be embarrassed. Teams are rolling in cash – the league grossed nearly $10 billion in revenue last year – but they can’t resist squeezing the little people that are affiliated with the most popular sport in the country.

One of the most damning allegations contained in the Jills’ complaint is that they are treated as independent contractors rather than employees. Employers do not have to pay social security, Medicare and unemployment taxes nor do they have to withhold federal income taxes on independent contractors. As independent contractors cheerleaders are responsible for their own tax withholdings – when they are paid at all – and are ineligible for workers compensation insurance and other benefits usually associated with employment. But any objective review of their circumstances leads to only one conclusion: The cheerleaders are in fact employees.

The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if the payer – in this case, the team – has “the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done.” An individual is not an independent contractor if he or she performs services that can be controlled by an employer, i.e., what will be done and how it will be done. The key is whether the employer controls the details of how the services are performed.

You want details? Teams control a cheerleader’s hairstyle and makeup, right down to the length of finger nails and color of eye shadow, for which the girls foot the bill. Cheerleaders are told when to show up for work and which events they must attend. To add insult to injury, they are also required to pay the cost of traveling to such events. Every team has a detailed handbook and Code of Conduct that must be adhered to.

The Jills’ handbook consists of twelve pages of dos and don’ts that are both demeaning and insulting. Cheerleaders are given guidance on everything from proper eating etiquette (25 rules) to female hygiene (17 rules). Examples include, “When trying to capture a small piece of food onto a utensil, it is acceptable to use another utensil for aiding it aboard. Never use your fingers.” In the section of the handbook titled, “General hygiene & lady body maintenance,” cheerleaders are told which tampons to use and how to keep their “intimate areas” fresh.

Perhaps the biggest insult is the lack of compensation for these indignities. Jills are not paid for game day cheering, practice, or the bulk of their required minimum of 20 personal appearances. When they do receive tips, for example during the Jills Golf Tournament (for which participation is mandatory), they are required to turn them in. The golf tournament itself is particularly demeaning. Cheerleaders are required to wear bikinis, are “auctioned off” to the highest bidder and forced to ride around in the winner’s golf cart where they are subjected to “…degrading sexual comments and inappropriate touching.”

The ultimate indignity is the so-called “Jiggle Test.” According to the lawsuit, cheerleaders’ body parts – stomachs, arms, legs, thighs and butts – are scrutinized while they do jumping jacks before team personnel. If their bodies fail to measure up to some subjective standard, cheerleaders are “…penalized, suspended or dismissed.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was paid $44.2 million in 2012. Surely the league’s cheerleaders deserve to be paid minimum wage.

Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: Jordan can be reached at

© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed