Standard contracts that sports franchises, such as the National Football League (NFL), use for independent contractors should be closely scrutinized in the wake of a newly filed class action lawsuit that is shining the spotlight on their enforceability and legality.
A cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders has filed a class-action lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court alleging that the Raiders have violated a number of California employment laws. According to the cheerleader, all of these violations stem from an agreement between the Raiders and the football team’s cheerleading squad, the Raiderettes. Under the agreement, the Raiders identify their respective cheerleaders as “at will” part-time employees. However, the agreement goes on to call for a flat rate pay of $125 for each home game, which amounts to $1,250 of payment for the entire season.
In the lawsuit, Lacy T., a newly hired Raiderette, claims that this agreed upon sum amounts to less than $5 an hour, if one counts the hours of work that cheerleaders spend rehearsing, performing at 10 charity events per year, and participating in the team’s annual swimsuit photo shoot—all of which Lacy T. claims is unpaid. In addition, the suit claims that the cheerleaders must buy accessories such as tights, false eyelashes, and a yoga mat and pay for a team-selected hairstylist, whose appointments cost several hundred dollars. Lacy T. claims in her suit to have spent approximately $650 on those items in the past season. Additionally, according to the suit , the Raiders regularly withhold the cheerleaders’ pay until the end of the season in violation of the California law requiring that employees be paid at least twice a month.
Relying on California’s Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders and the California Business and Professions Code, Lacy T. is seeking compensation for minimum wage violations, overtime violations, unpaid expenses, and meal and rest break violations. Since the suit is filed as a class matter, it is anticipated that other Raiderettes will join.
Expect the Raiders to try to block these claims and argue that the Raiderettes are independent contractors and, thus, are not employees covered under California’s wage laws. In turn, the Raiderettes will likely argue that because they have little control over their job and because they are required to wear a specific uniform and to be at specific locations controlled by the Raiders, they are actually employees unlawfully categorized as independent contractors to avoid compliance with the wage and hour laws.
Sports franchises and other similar businesses need to do an instant replay over their own independent contractor agreements to make sure that they will pass the strict tests related to independent contractors—as Lacy T. may be the first in line to try to score a “touchdown” in this kind of lawsuit. A petition on Change.org is calling on the 32 teams in the NFL to pay their cheerleaders a living wage. At press time, it has attracted approximately 68,000 signatures, with some noting that cheerleader pay is reflective of the “blatant sexism” within the sports industry.
Dawn Knepper is licensed in both California and Texas and she is Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She represents employers in all aspects of employment law, including employment litigation and counseling. Dawn advises and defends clients in federal and state employment-related lawsuits and agency claims, including actions alleging discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination. Dawn’s experience includes successfully...