On April 21, 2015, California’s legislature advanced a bill that would require professional sports teams based in California to classify their cheerleaders as employees and pay them a minimum wage. The state assembly’s Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media voted 5-to-2 in favor of the bill, which must now pass a vote by the Appropriations Committee before it can be reintroduced to the legislature.

The bill, A.B. 202, was initially introduced on January 29, 2015 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego)—a former Division One cheerleader at Stanford University. Gonzalez’s proposal comes on the heels of five widely publicized wage-and-hour lawsuits filed against National Football League (NFL) clubs last year, in which current and former cheerleaders claimed that their clubs violated state and federal wage laws. In fact, one NFL team in California recently settled a class action with its cheerleaders for $1.25 million.  

Under A.B. 202, NFL and National Basketball Association (NBA) cheerleaders working for California-based teams could no longer be classified as independent contractors or volunteers—the bill “would require a cheerleader who is utilized . . . during its exhibitions, events, or games to be deemed an employee.” The bill would also apply to third parties that contract with teams for cheerleaders.

Sports franchises across the country have an interest in the outcome of A.B. 202 as it would immediately impact three NFL franchises and four NBA franchises, and it has the potential to influence legislators in jurisdictions where cheerleader wage suits are currently being litigated.

A.B. 202 may be the first bill of its kind, but we should expect to see increased scrutiny of the role of cheerleaders in professional sports. 

It should not be surprising that California is attempting to legislate who should be classified as an employee rather than an independent contractor, but nonetheless, it is an unusual step. The bill had some strong support in the House, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the Senate. As plaintiffs’ lawyers are already applauding the development, businesses in the sports and entertainment field should prepare for the implementation of such changes, if they have not done so already and carefully audit all such positions to ensure that the workers are appropriately classified. This will hopefully leave the plaintiffs’ bar much less to “cheer” about.

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Ogletree Deakins lawyers understand the complexities and nuances of sports and entertainment businesses. We regularly provide advice and education to clients on sports and entertainment-related legal topics. We also understand the pace of the industry and the vital importance of keeping our clients on stage or on the field.

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