Are the Oakland Raiders exploiting their cheerleaders by violating California wage and labor laws? Based on our review of the lawsuit Lacy T. v. Oakland Raiders, that appears to be the case.

Oakland Raiderettes Lacy T. and Sara G. have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Raiders, accusing the organization of wage theft and other unfair employment practices. The suit was filed Jan. 22 on behalf of Raiderettes who cheered from 2010 to 2013.

The lawsuit challenges the following procedures and practices:

  • Failing to pay minimum wage for all hours worked as required by law
  • Failing to pay all overtime as required by law when these employees worked more than eight hours in a 24-hour period [Raiderettes put in nine hours on game days.]
  • Failing to indemnify employees for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by them in the discharge of their duties [Raiderettes have to pay many of their own business expenses.]
  • Taking unlawful deductions from compensation owed to employees [fines levied for infractions such as bringing the wrong pom-poms to practice ]
  • Failing to time provide itemized wage statements
  • Prohibiting employees from discussing their wages and working conditions
  • Requiring employees to agree, as a condition of employment, to terms and conditions that are prohibited by law
  • Failing to pay employees in a timely manner as required by law
  • Failing to provide employees with required meals and rest breaks [on game days]

The plaintiffs allege that their pay – $1,250.00 a season – comes out to less than $5 an hour if one includes rehearsals and appearances at charity and other events. California’s minimum wage is $8 an hour. In addition, California law requires that employees be paid every two weeks. Raiderettes aren’t paid until the end of the season.

Additionally, a Raiderette can be benched and/or fined if she fails to “maintain the highest possible level of physical and athletic condition” – which includes gaining weight.  As a result of various fines imposed, a Raiderette might not receive any compensation at the end of the season. What’s more, the $1,250.00 stipend might not even cover her expenses for a season’s worth of hair, makeup, nails, and tanning.

Not surprisingly, the Raiderettes lawsuit has sparked a similar suit by Ben-Gals cheerleader Alexa Brenneman against the Cincinnati Bengals in U.S. District Court in Ohio.

The U.S. Labor Department has determined that the Raiders team qualifies for an exemption from federal minimum wage and overtime pay laws because it is a “seasonal” operation. California has no such exemption, however.

It’s interesting to note that the Golden State Warriors reportedly pay their dancers $12.00 per hour for all practices and performances.  According to a 2001 Sports Illustrated Article, the Laker Girls, considered the most prestigious of the NBA’s cheerleading squads, reportedly make around $85.00 per game and $25.00 to $40.00 per practice.  It’s possible, 13 years later they make even more.  While that’s likely to only equate to about $5,500.00 to $10,000.00, the women are paid more than minimum wage and reportedly charge appearance fees which can be up to $150.00 per hour.

The Raiders are trying to derail the lawsuit by insisting that the contracts the women signed call for arbitration rather than litigation. That would mean the women’s case would be adjudicated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – who is elected and paid by the team owners.

We don’t believe an Alameda court will find the arbitration clause enforceable, as the employer will certainly be considered to be the “more powerful party” in the arbitration agreement.  Further, the Raiderettes have no say in the selection of the arbitrator, which is an important element to consider when determining whether an arbitration agreement is enforceable.

Moreover, we have to point out that no other California employer could conduct business in this fashion with impunity. Apparently, the Raiders think their Raiderettes should be honored simply for having the opportunity to strut their stuff in a public forum. We think that smacks of gender discrimination. The message is that the owners do not have to pay for what the women add to the NFL experience, but the male football players are handsomely compensated for their performance.

We believe the Raiders team is taking advantage of its cheerleaders – young women who are excited about being chosen for a “prestigious” job. These women, who clearly contribute to the experience at NFL games, should not be treated as second-class citizens.

We’ll keep you updated on this case as it progresses.

Are you meeting California’s wage and labor law requirements? Contact Johnson Employment Law for guidance.