Lawsuits, Pending Legislation, Address Question of Whether NFL Cheerleaders Are Employees or Independent Contractors

The question of whether an individual is an “employee” or an “independent contractor” determines whether or not they enjoy the protection of a wide range of employment laws at the city, state, and federal levels. Employees of covered employers are protected by laws related to minimum wage, overtime pay, and other matters. Independent contractors, however, are generally considered to be self-employed, and in a mere contractual relationship with the employer. Employers clearly have an interest in classifying people as independent contractors whenever possible, but some workers have begun to push back. One place where this is occurring is among the cheerleading squads of professional football teams, who claim that they are employees of the teams, not independent contractors. Multiple lawsuits, including one in New Jersey, are asserting claims for wage violations, and a bill pending in the California Legislature would formally grant “employee” status to professional sports team cheerleaders.

A putative class action filed in a New Jersey court alleges that the New York Jets football team underpays its cheerleading squad. Krystal C. v. New York Jets LLC, No. L-004282-14, complaint (N.J. Super. Ct., Bergen Co., May 6, 2014). The plaintiff alleges that the team entered into an “Employment Agreement” with her, identifying them as “Employer” and “Employee,” respectively. She claims that she was paid $150 per game at which she performed, and $100 for each team-sponsored “outside event” sponsored by the team at which she was present on the team’s behalf. The amount of work required of her, however, was allegedly so extensive that it rendered the pay she actually received substantially lower than the state minimum wage, often as little as $3.77 per hour.

The plaintiff in Krystal C. does not directly raise the question of misclassification in her complaint, but her factual allegations depict a level of control over the cheerleaders’ work duties that fits the legal definition of an employer-employee relationship. The claimed class consists of current and former cheerleaders for the Jets employed within two years of the date she filed the complaint. She is claiming violations of the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56a et seq., and is asking the court to award all wrongfully withheld pay to the class members. As of early May 2015, the case is still pending in a New Jersey Superior Court.

Cheerleaders for another professional football team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, filed a federal collective action for wage violations. Pierre-Val v. Buccaneers Limited Partnership, No. 8:14-cv-01182, complaint (M.D. Fla., May 19, 2014). This lawsuit made similar factual allegations to those in Krystal C. but asserted a claim under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. The parties announced in March 2015 that they had reached a settlement, by which the team will pay $825,000 to a group of 94 cheerleaders.

In California, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, introduced AB 202 in January 2015 to address the question of professional sports cheerleaders’ employment status. The bill would amend state labor laws to include an express classification of cheerleaders for professional sports teams, both major- and minor-league, as “employees” entitled to the protection of state employment and unemployment insurance law. The California Assembly passed the bill on May 11, and it is now awaiting action in the Senate.

The Resnick Law Group’s employment law attorneys represent employees in claims for wage and hour violations and related matters in New Jersey and New York. To schedule a confidential consultation, contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Supreme Court Applies Broad Definition of “Employee,” Including Many Normally Classified as Independent Contractors, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, April 22, 2015
$2.3 Million Settlement Resolves Misclassification, Overtime Dispute Between Exotic Dancers and Clubs, Leaves Question of Whether They Were Employees or Independent Contractors Unanswered, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, March 5, 2015
Current and Former NFL Cheerleaders Sue Teams for Wage Violations, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 9, 2014

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