Cheerleaders Score As Calif. Gov. OKs 1st-Of-Kind Wage Bill

Jul 20, 2015
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Share us on:   By Benjamin Horney via Law 360

Law360, New York (July 16, 2015, 1:26 PM ET) — California Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed into law a bill requiring professional football and basketball teams to classify their cheerleaders as employees and pay them at least minimum wage, making official a potentially precedential piece of legislation.

A.B. 202, pitched by a former college cheerleader, was officially greenlighted by the governor just under two weeks after the California state senate overwhelmingly approved the bill in a 26-8 vote earlier this month. The bill, which had also passed through various other channels since its introduction in January by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, will take effect Jan. 1.

A representative for Gonzalez confirmed on Thursday that A.B. 202 is the first of its kind, noting that the only comparable bill they’ve seen was introduced last month in New York. Gonzalez praised the governor’s decision on Wednesday via both an official statement and a series of Tweets.

“Today we took an important step toward ensuring that multibillion dollar sports teams treat cheerleaders with the same dignity and respect as every other employee who makes the game-day experience special,” Gonzalez said.

“Today … was a good day,” she added in a Tweet. “Time for the NFL to do it nationally.”

Gonzalez has called the bill’s demands — that cheerleaders be paid for the time they spend representing the teams both on and off the field and court — a simple way to protect them from workplace abuses.

“Whatever a woman chooses to pursue as a career, her rights and opportunities should be equal under the law,” Gonzalez Tweeted Wednesday.

A number of professional sports franchises, including the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have landed in court after being accused of wage theft and other unfair employment processes. The suit against the Raiders came first and triggered a cascade of similar suits.

The landmark case against the Raiders, Lacy T. et al. v. the Oakland Raiders, settled in September for $1.25 million. The settlement covered 90 cheerleaders who worked the 2010-2013 seasons, and who will receive an average of $2,500 to $6,000 per season, the parties announced at the time.

The suit, brought by lead plaintiff and Raiderette “Lacy T.” in January 2014, alleged that the Raiders withheld all pay from the Raiderettes until after the end of the season, didn’t pay for all hours worked, and forced the cheerleaders to pay many of their own business expenses.

According to the suit, pursuant to their contract, the Raiderettes were each paid $1,250 for working a full season, amounting to less than $5 per hour for the time they spent rehearsing, performing and appearing at events. Wages were also withheld until after the end of the season, the suit said.

The suit against the Bills, also cited by Gonzalez in her January announcement, was filed in April 2014, and alleged that that the squad’s cheerleaders worked hundreds of hours annually but were paid as little as $105 a year.

–Additional reporting by Kat Greene, Daniel Siegal, Jeff Sistrunk and Kurt Orzeck. Editing by Rebecca Flanagan.

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