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Buffalo Bills cheerleaders, 2010
Fast food workers. Software engineers. NFL cheerleaders. These are just a few of the groups of American workers who are suing over forms of wage theft, the umbrella term for the long list of ways employers cheat workers out of money they've earned. In recent months, NFL cheerleaders—most recently four former cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills—have been filing lawsuits alleging that they were misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees, then paid amounts that worked out to below minimum wage.

Independent contractors are, by definition, supposed to be able to exercise at least some independence; one of the key measures of misclassification is how much control the employer exerts over the worker. The former Bills cheerleaders' lawsuit reports the team and the management companies it retained to oversee the cheerleading program exerting extensive control over every aspect of their appearance and behavior while on the job:

z65. In addition to the rules previously cited, defendants also provided the Jills with rules regarding general hygiene and body maintenance (a list of 17 rules), appearance etiquette (17 rules), conversation starters for appearances and general etiquette, etiquette for formal dining (25 rules), and rules for communicating with people with disabilities (17 rules).

66. The extensive rulebook set forth by defendants includes, inter alia, rules on how much bread to eat at a formal dinner, how to properly eat soup, how much to tip restaurant waiters, wedding etiquette, how to properly wash "intimate areas," and how often to change tampons.

Following these rules, showing up for appearances, allowing themselves to be groped and harassed, was not exactly a ticket to wealth:
Jills were not paid for working game days. Neither were they paid for the mandatory biweekly practice sessions that usually lasted eight hours in total, according to the suit. On average, the cheerleaders involved in the suit averaged only a few hundred dollars per season, the highest amount being $1,800, the lowest $150. Not surprisingly, the lady who made $150 didn't cheer the next year.
The Bills are the third NFL team to face such a lawsuit; the Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals have similarly been sued for paying cheerleaders amounts that worked out to well below minimum wage. And remember, this all is going on in an incredibly profitable industry that rakes in huge public subsidies.

Thu Apr 24, 2014 at 9:23 AM PT: The lawsuit has had one immediate effect:

The director of the Buffalo Jills has suspended all activities for the Buffalo Bills cheerleaders until further notice, after five former Jills sued the Bills and her company, which manages the Jills.

Stephanie Mateczun, president of Stejon Productions Corp., based in West Seneca, said she has no idea how long the suspension will last.

We'll see if this lasts until football season, of course.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Apr 23, 2014 at 07:28 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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