California considers a new law for cheerleader pay, in wake of three suits against Oakland Raiders

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has authored a bill to grant professional cheerleaders minimum wage and overtime compensation.

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has authored a bill to grant professional cheerleaders minimum wage and overtime compensation.

A state bill to grant professional cheerleaders a minimum wage, workers’ benefits and overtime compensation, sponsored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, has passed the Assembly and is now in the state Senate for a vote. Among those watching the outcome are the Oakland Raiderettes.

Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego, introduced AB 202, an amendment to the state’s Labor Code, in January after cheerleaders complained of unfair compensation and filed lawsuits against California-based professional sports teams and the National Football League.

It’s a gender equity issue in a male-dominated game, Gonzalez said in an interview in her Sacramento office. “You can trivialize it, but these women are hard working. They’ve worked largely their whole life to be able to have the skill sets available to do this type of performance,” she said.

Since last year, three class action lawsuits have been filed against the Oakland Raiders in Alameda County Superior Court for violation of California labor laws, for allegedly failing to pay minimum wage and overtime, failing to pay in a timely manner, unlawful deductions from wages, failing to provide meal and rest breaks, failing to provide wage statements and to reimburse business expenses, breach of contract, and exposing the cheerleaders to unlawful working conditions.

A former Oakland Raiderette identified only as “Lacy T.,” who represented 90 unnamed former Raiderettes, was first to sue the team last year. In September, 2014, the cheerleaders and the team agreed to a maximum settlement of $1.25 million that includes “payment for all unpaid wages, unpaid overtime, unreimbursed business expenses, penalties, interest and [certain] taxes,” the settlement stated. The settlement covered Raiderettes, who were part of the class action lawsuit and “who worked as Raiderettes for The Oakland Raiders, from January 22, 2010, to June 30, 2014,” the order and judgment granting final approval of class action settlement stated.

“The fact that there was only one objection and two opt-outs to the Settlement strongly supports the conclusion that the proposed Settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate,” the court order stated. Only one person, identified in court documents as “Jenny C.,” filed objections to the settlement, which were “overruled” by the court order.

Jenny C. is also one of two former Raiderettes who filed a second lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders last year in Alameda County Superior Court. They included the National Football League (NFL) in the class action complaint for damages and injunctive relief. The NFL disputed all allegations and filed objections against the complaint made against the league.

A demurrer filed by the NFL argued that the complaint “tries to turn a straightforward labor dispute” between the plaintiffs and their employer, the Raiders, “into a complex labor and antitrust class action” against the league. “The NFL does not belong in it,” the league’s document states. “No amendment could make their demonstrably false story true, or their purported claims against the NFL constitutional,” the demurrer continued.

“The NFL, as a matter of law and logic, cannot have breached a contract to which it was not a party,” stated the league in its opposition to the plaintiff’s’ motion for a preliminary injunction. “The Raiderette Agreement undeniably establishes that the Raiders, and the Raiders alone, hired Plaintiffs, thereby creating a common law employment relationship.”

“Thus, the NFL is not, and never was, Plantiff’s ‘employer’ under any of the applicable definition,” the opposition document continued.

Debra Fischer, attorney to the NFL, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The attorney for the Oakland Raiders, David Reis, also did not return requests for comment regarding any of the lawsuits filed against the team. Legal representatives Dan Ventrelle and John Yow, and team owner Marc Badain also did not respond for comment.

Professional cheerleaders audition every year and sign employment agreements. They are not currently unionized.

Two of the three lawsuits against the Raiders are ongoing. In the second lawsuit, the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction has been continued to October 15, 2015. “Parties are to submit a joint status report addressing the status of the parties’ arbitration” ten days before the continued motion, the court order states.

And another former Raiderette, Susie Sanchez, sued the team and the league in January, 2015. A case management conference continuance has been set for June 3, 2015, according to an amended notice of hearing.

In the three lawsuits, cheerleaders accused the Raiders of unfair pay and treatment. Assemblymember Gonzalez said that such issues are the focus of AB 202. “Let’s just be very clear that they are obviously employees under California state law. It should be designated as such. They should be treated with the same dignity and respect as the rest of the workers,” Gonzalez said.

Oakland Raiderettes are paid a flat fee of $125 per home game, regardless of the number of hours worked, Lacy T.’s lawsuit stated. There is no additional compensation for appearances on a ticket sales day, or the first ten charitable events involving the team, the Raiderettes’ contract stated.

Raiderettes participated in over 300 appearances throughout the year 2013, with no promised compensation from the team, Lacy T.’s lawsuit alleged. It also charged that cheerleaders had to pay out-of-pocket for travel to appearances, for specific stylist appointments, and for fitness equipment. The lawsuit also charged that a cosmetics sponsor provided five free products for their “game day look,” but the cheerleaders had to pay for supplies if the free products didn’t last the whole year.

Lacy T.’s lawsuit alleged that she was paid $8 per regular hour and $12 per overtime hour, which resulted in a total compensation of $76 for each home game—a breach of contract, the lawsuit claimed.

After the second lawsuit was filed, the Oakland Raiders announced on audition fliers that the team would pay its cheerleaders $9 per hour, according to a June, 2014, report by NBC Bay Area News.

Currently, minimum wages in California and the city of Oakland are $9 and $12.25 an hour, respectively.

In the Raiderettes’ case, total compensation is given after each football season, and may include deductions for breaking its rules and regulations, the employment agreement stated. Lacy T.’s lawsuit stated that the Raiders “acknowledge that, as a result of various fines, a Raiderette may not receive any compensation at the end of the season.”

The Oakland Raiders argued in a motion to compel arbitration and stay litigation that the cheerleaders “signed written employment agreements stating that ‘all disputes’ they have with the Oakland Raiders shall be subject to binding arbitration through the NFL.” The team further said that it requested that plaintiffs raise their claims in the arbitration process “as required by their employment agreements, but they refused to do so.” The team asked the court to issue an order to require the arbitration of claims, to dismiss claims on labor law violations, and to wait for completion of arbitration before proceeding with the civil action, the motion stated.

On July 14, 2014, the team and the plaintiffs “engaged in mediation,” the settlement stated. “Through mediation, the parties reached an agreement to settle this case.” After almost two months, the parties signed the settlement agreement of more than $1 million.

One former Raiderette, Loreen Lee, who cheered for six seasons from 2000 to 2006, offered a different perspective. She said cheerleaders “got compensated in many different ways as well,” such as being compensated for public appearances and calendar sales. In addition, she said that she experienced traveling the world with all expenses paid by the team, and got to cheer in the 2003 Superbowl. “Experiences like that are priceless,” she said.

Lee said she supports fair pay and treatment, but during her time as a Raiderette, “nobody really complained” about the work and pay. “That’s the thing; we all loved it so much, which is why we kept going back,” she said.

Assemblymember Gonzalez said that sports teams should be held responsible for fair pay for their cheerleaders. “Yes, it’s an honor. It’s an honor to have that role, but you’re also doing work and you should be compensated for it,” Gonzalez said.

On May 11, the state senate read the bill for the first time and referred the bill to Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on May 21.

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