Professional football presents multiple legal issues related to employment. New Jersey officially has no team in the National Football League. That said, both of the New York-based NFL teams, the Giants and the Jets, have used stadiums in Northern New Jersey as their home fields since the early 1980s. Issues affecting players in the NFL, particularly the lasting effects of concussions and other injuries, have received media attention in recent years. NFL cheerleaders have also made a variety of complaints regarding wages, working conditions, and sexual harassment. In 2016, the New York Jets settled a New Jersey wage and hour lawsuit filed on behalf of a class of NFL cheerleaders. In 2018, a former cheerleader, who had recently been fired by another team, filed a sex discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
While NFL players usually receive generous salaries under contracts with their teams, cheerleaders are often paid far less and do not have the protection of a defined term of employment. NFL cheerleaders have recently made several successful wage claims. A lawsuit filed in New Jersey in 2014, Krystal C. v. New York Jets LLC, alleged that the compensation received by members of the Jets’ cheerleading squad, when compared to the number of hours they were required to work, was often substantially less than minimum wage. Cheerleaders were paid $150 per game and $100 for appearances at team-sponsored events, but not for other required activities like practices and rehearsals. The parties entered into a settlement agreement in 2016, in which the team agreed to pay $325,000 to the class of plaintiffs.
Claims of sex discrimination involving NFL cheerleaders have not received as much attention in the court system as wage claims. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Cheerleading, as an occupation, presents some challenges in this area. Technical skill, including proficiency in dance, is not the only requirement for the job of cheerleader. To put it bluntly, cheerleaders are expected to meet a particular standard of physical attractiveness.
The current state of sex discrimination law approves of this standard in some ways and strictly regulates it in others. It should go without saying—although apparently it does not—that sexual harassment is never acceptable, regardless of whether attractiveness is a job requirement. Some court decisions have held, however, that physical appearance could be a “bona fide occupational qualification” for some jobs. The question yet to be answered is whether future jurisprudence will treat cheerleaders like servers at Playboy Clubs or Hooters restaurants or like flight attendants.
The recent EEOC complaint directly relates to these types of job requirements for NFL cheerleaders. A cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints was fired in January 2018, reportedly because of a post on the social media platform Instagram that violated her contract with the team. The complainant alleges that multiple contractual restrictions on cheerleaders, including the one that prompted her termination, are discriminatory. For example, the anti-fraternization policy, according to the complainant, effectively prohibits cheerleaders from being in the same room as a player, but it does not place similar obligations or restrictions on players.
The gender discrimination attorneys at the Resnick Law Group represent employees and job seekers in New Jersey and New York in claims of unlawful employment practices like sex discrimination. You can contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you.
More Blog Posts:
The Distinction Between an “Employee” and an “Independent Contractor” is Critical in New Jersey Employment Law Claims, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, May 22, 2015
Lawsuits, Pending Legislation, Address Question of Whether NFL Cheerleaders Are Employees or Independent Contractors, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, June 4, 2015
Current and Former NFL Cheerleaders Sue Teams for Wage Violations, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 9, 2014