Five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders have joined a growing list of women who have filed suit against NFL teams over compensation and treatment.
The Bills cheerleaders, known as the Jills, allege that they were inadequately compensated and were subjected to demeaning treatment that included “jiggle tests.” The lawsuit, filed against Stejon Productions Corp., which manages the Jills; Citadel Communications, the Jills’ former manager; and the Bills in State Supreme Court in Buffalo, alleges that the women were not paid the minimum wage and were mistreated at, among other times, their annual golf tournament. They claim they were required to wear bikinis and enter a dunk tank, as well as being auctioned off like prizes.
The lawsuit is the latest filed against an NFL team by women hired to cheer for them. The Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals are the target of lawsuits over their allegedly inadequate compensation. Alexa Brenneman, a cheerleader who just finished her first season with the Ben-Gals, is suing the team because she claims it pays nowhere near minimum wage, according to a lawsuit filed Feb. 11 and obtained by KTLA.com, Brenneman contends that she was paid $855 for over 300 hours of work during the 2013 season. In January, the Raiderettes filed a lawsuit alleging that they were paid little less than $5 per hour for their time in Oakland. The Raiders contend that the women signed away their rights to sue in court when they signed a contract with the team. Last month, they asked Alameda County Superior Court Judge Wayne Carvill to put the lawsuit on hold and force the women to plead their case with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I’ve been a Bills fans my entire life,” Maria P., a the former Jill identified only by first name and last initial, said the filing (via the Buffalo News). “To be able to cheer them on in front of 80,000 fans was a dream of mine since I was a child. That dream was taken advantage of by the Bills.”
Maria P., who quit after the 2012-13 season, alleged that cheerleaders were subjected to degrading comments and were touched inappropriately at their annual golf tournament.
“I could not go back because of the harassment and the way we were treated,” she said. “I signed up to be a cheerleader, not whatever you want to call that. Cheerleading was my passion. I had no idea what would be taking place at these events.”
As a condition of their employment, the women had to sign contracts describing them as independent contractors. The lawsuit states that they were not paid the mandatory minimum wage of $8 an hour for all the hours they worked on game days and at community events, which numbered 20-35 a year. Including game performances, practices, rehearsals and appearances, each Jill worked about 840 unpaid hours per year, the lawsuit states. The women also had to pass a “jiggle test,” the lawsuit alleges, and were penalized if they weren’t sufficiently fit. From the lawsuit:
In addition, the Jills were subjected to weekly “physique evaluations” during which defendants’ representatives tested the Jills’ bodies for “jiggling.” During the “Jiggle Test” defendants scrutinized the women’s stomach, arms, legs, hips, and butt while she does jumping jacks. The physique evaluations largely determine whether or not any particular Jill would be allowed to perform at the Bills’ next home game. Jills that failed to meet defendants’ physical standards received warnings, and in some cases were penalized, suspended or dismissed.
One cheerleader alleges that she was told to “tone up,” only to be accused of being anorexic after beginning a strict diet and exercise regimen.
Maybe Donald Trump, beauty pageant promoter and prospective purchaser of the Bills, will straighten all this out when he’s an NFL owner.