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Five former Buffalo Bills' cheerleaders, better known as Buffalo Jills, are suing the organization and the Jills' management companies for allegedly failing to fully compensate them for their work.
While the lawsuit's claims are based on wage and labor law violations, the Jills also allege that they were subjected to harassment and degrading sexual comments at team events, The Buffalo News reports.
According to the lawsuit, as a condition of their employment on the squad, the Jills had to sign a contract classifying them as independent contractors rather than employees.
In their lawsuit, the Jills claim that the Bills organization failed to pay them the mandatory minimum wage for all the hours they worked. It's also alleged that when calculating the amount of time spent performing at games, practicing, rehearsals, and appearances, each individual cheerleader provides about 20 hours of unpaid labor per week, The Buffalo News states.
In New York, the current minimum wage is $8.75, but during the duration of the cheerleaders' employment, the rate was $8.00. However, if the Jills succeed in their lawsuit, the total amount of back pay they may receive will depend on what the court considers labor. For example, performing at games will likely be considered labor, but time the Jills spent practicing outside of the organization may not be.
Independent Contractor or Employee?
One of the biggest issues in the lawsuit is whether the cheerleaders are independent contractors or employees. Under New York law, every employer must pay employees minimum wage, but it doesn't mention anything about independent contractors.
Although the Jills signed a contract classifying them as independent contractors, the court could look at terms and conditions of their employment and find that they've been misclassified. For example, if the organization gives a worker instructions on how to perform work, controls the work hours, tells the worker what to wear, and exercises a good amount of control over the worker, then it's likely the person is considered an employee.
The Jills claim that the team told them "how to walk, talk, dress, speak, and behave, both at work and on our own time," according to The Buffalo News. The lawsuit also alleges that the cheerleaders were penalized if they failed to keep their bodies trim.
While all members of a NFL organization should be paid and treated fairly, this isn't the first NFL cheerleader lawsuit alleging wage law violations.