Five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders have sued the National Football League team, claiming it violated state wage laws by forcing them to work hundreds of hours without pay, cover their own travel expenses, and spend hundreds of dollars on uniforms.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday (April 22) in New York State Supreme Court by the former Buffalo Jills, is the third case this year brought against National Football League teams claiming wage violations. It follows similar suits brought by members of the Oakland Raiderettes and Cincinnati Ben-Gals.
The five cheerleaders, who worked between 2010 and 2014, said in the complaint that the team and two companies that managed the cheer squad took unlawful deductions from their wages, including the cost of uniforms, forced them to work up to 840 unpaid hours a year -- the equivalent of 21 40-hour weeks -- at practices and promotional events, and made them pay $650 for their uniforms.
"We paid for everything from tights to lipstick to gas money for appearance I mean so much out of pocket and we really had no idea that it was going to be that," said Alyssa U, one of the cheerleaders who declined to provide their full name.
The cheerleaders' full names were also omitted from the court filing in an effort to protect them from potential retaliation.
The cheerleaders also claim the team levied penalties on cheerleaders who failed the "jiggle test," a visual inspection of a dancer's body fat.
"It's not only the money it's a matter of the dignity of work... of you as a worker," said Frank Dolce, an attorney representing the cheerleaders.
According to the complaint, Alyssa U was paid $420 for all of her work as a Buffalo Jill during the 2012-2013 football season. That same year, Bills defensive end Mario Williams was paid about $16 million, the eighth-highest average annual salary in the NFL, according to Forbes.
The Buffalo Bills organization declined to comment on the matter because it was the subject of pending litigation.
In a similar lawsuit filed in February, Alexa Brenneman of the Cincinnati Ben-Gals said she was paid only $855 for over 300 hours of work during the 2013 season, or roughly $2.85 an hour. That lawsuit followed a class action filed against California's Oakland Raiders in January, which said the team's cheerleaders were paid roughly $5 an hour.
Twenty-six of the 32 NFL franchises have official cheerleader squads, each with some two to three dozen members.
The Jills' suit seeks the unpaid balance of their wages under minimum wage laws, repayment of any deducted wages and court costs.
The NFL is one of the most successful professional sports leagues in the world, bringing in around $10 billion in revenue a year.