BUFFALO, N.Y. (CN) – Five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders seek a state court’s help to get paid for their work on and off the football field – for which they claim they were paid as little as $105 a season.
The cheerleaders, called Buffalo Jills, claim their skimpy paychecks were for their work at home games, practices, public appearances and special events.
Each Jill provided some 20 hours of unpaid labor per week, or “840 hours of unpaid work per woman per year,” they claim in Erie County Supreme Court.
Lead plaintiff Jaclyn S. accuses defendants Buffalo Bills Inc., Citadel Communications Co. and Stejon Productions Corp. of “flagrant violation of numerous laws of the state of New York,” including the minimum wage law, and misclassifying the cheerleaders as independent contractors.
“At all times relevant, the Jills worked as employees of defendants the Bills, Citadel and Stejon, because the defendants exercised sufficient discretion and control over the Jills including over the results and means of the work, to establish their status as employees,” the women say. “This is true despite the fact that the Jills were required to sign a ‘contract’ misclassifying them as independent contractors.”
The Jills date to the Buffalo Bills’ founding in 1960, according to the complaint, and have been overseen by outside entities since 1986. Citadel Communications, which managed the squad until 2011, operated a radio station that served as the flagship station of the Bills for more than a decade.
Current manager Stejon Productions is run by Stephanie Mateczun, who is in her 11th season as director of the Jills. She is not a party to the lawsuit.
The squad’s latest roster, filled through tryouts last month, numbers about 30 women.
The plaintiffs, who are identified in the complaint by their first names, served as cheerleaders from the 2010-11 to the 2013-14 seasons. Two were Jills for three seasons each; the other three served just one season each.
The women claim that while the Buffalo Bills is a successful franchise – Forbes valued it at $870 million – they often worked on the team’s behalf without pay. Jills are required to perform at eight home football games – typically working an 8-hour day – but receive no compensation other than one ticket to the game and one parking pass, according to the complaint.
The women say they practiced twice a week for about 8 hours in all, but received no pay for the work. They were not paid for many of the 20 to 35 appearances a year they made at corporate, community and charity events.
Some of that work generated revenue for the defendants, including $250-per-child enrollment fees for cheerleader-led “Junior Jills” skills camps that draw as many as 400 children each season, the women say.
They claim they also had to participate in “demeaning and degrading” events, such as an annual golf tournament at which they appeared in bikinis and were auctioned off to participants, and a release party for the annual swimsuit calendar at which they were “groped or touched inappropriately by audience members.”
The latter event was “mandatory for all Jills,” the women say, but none were paid for it.
The complaint says the plaintiffs who served as Jills for three seasons, Jaclyn S. and Gina B., were paid $3,400 and $1,600, respectively, for their work. Maria P., who worked just one season, was paid $105.
“Plaintiffs’ wages for all of the years they worked as Jills were substantially below the minimum wage required by New York State law,” the women contend.
Their complaint says they were “subjected to further economic loss” through penalties levied for violations of the Buffalo Jills Handbook – such as failing the “jiggle test” on muscle tone – and “significant, mandatory out-of-pocket business expenses” for hair, nails and uniform.
The women say they also were required to purchase calendars and golf tournament tickets to sell on their own time.
“Any Jill who failed to meet the minimum sales requirement was subject to personal financial loss and discipline at the discretion of defendants,” the complaint states.
Jills also were advised how to “walk, talk, dress, speak and behave, both in uniform and in their personal lives,” the women say. The rulebook included advice on “how to properly wash ‘intimate areas’ and how often to change tampons,” they contend.
The women accuse the defendants of “willful failure” to pay them minimum wage by requiring them to work without compensation, and say that by failing to pay them at all, the defendants violated state labor law on timely payment of wages.
The women demand unpaid wages for hours worked, lost interest, costs and fees. They also want liquidated damages equal to the total of underpayments found to be due.
They are represented by Sean Cooney of Dolce Panepinto in Buffalo.
A spokesman for the Bills could not be reached by email for comment Wednesday night. Scott Berchtold, senior vice president of communications, told the Buffalo News on Tuesday that the team does not comment on pending litigation.
Time.com reported Wednesday that the Jills’ lawsuit is the third brought this year by cheerleaders claiming wage theft by NFL teams. The other complaints were filed in February against the Cincinnati Bengals and in January against the Oakland Raiders.
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