Tarnished Twenty- The FindLaw Sports Law Blog

Cheerleaders: NFL Teams Conspired to Suppress Wages

It turns out the cheerleaders employed by pro football teams aren't big fans of their teams' employment agreements. And perhaps for good reason. A new class action lawsuit claims 26 of its 32 teams agreed "to eliminate competition for female athletes with the intent and effect of suppressing the compensation and mobility of female athletes."

Filed by a former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader just days before the Super Bowl, the lawsuit also says the NFL itself "conspired with the Defendant NFL Member Teams to coordinate, encourage, facilitate, and implement the agreement in order to pay female athletes below fair market value."

Rah Rah Raise

The lawsuit claims the NFL required teams to file their cheerleader employment contracts with the league, a move that allegedly allowed teams and the league itself to "ensure the conspiracy among the Defendant NFL Member Teams to suppress female athlete earnings was enforced."

Also, by restricting cheerleaders' movement between teams and options for outside employment, the league could more easily limit wages: "Defendant NFL Member Teams prohibited those female athletes from seeking similar employment with other professional cheerleading teams, not just within the NFL, thus enforcing the illegal agreement to suppress earnings."

The suit is asking for rulings that the NFL violated federal antitrust laws, and is seeking damages in the neighborhood of $300 million.

Give Me a Dollar!

It's only been in the past few years that football fans and others learned how restrictive NFL cheerleader contracts could be. On top of strict rules on "how to walk, talk, dress, speak, and behave, both at work and on [their] own time," more and more lawsuits accused teams of paying cheerleaders less than minimum wage (when they actually would pay them), sometimes as little as $2 dollars an hour. But as USAToday reports those suits are having an effect:

In the past 16 months, the Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets agreed to settlements worth more than $2.6 million combined and the guarantee of minimum-wage pay. California legislators took action, ensuring professional cheerleaders get workers' compensation and other benefits, and New York legislators introduced a similar bill.

Between popular support for wage equality and recent criticism of the NFL, the trend of cheerleaders battling for equal protection and higher pay is sure to continue.

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