Illegal Formation? Raiders Cheerleaders Allege Wage & Hour Violations

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A recent class action suit filed by two Oakland Raiders cheerleaders alleges that the NFL team violated labor laws, including paying less than minimum wage and illegally requiring them to pay expenses out of their per-game salaries. Add this to the fairly lengthy list of off-season concerns facing one of last season’s worst teams in football.

According to reports, each cheerleader is paid $125 per home game, but they are not compensated for time spent rehearsing, participating in the season’s 10 mandatory promotional events, and participating in the swimsuit calendar photo session. $125 for each of the Raiders’ 10 home games (the squad works 9 hours per game) equates to $1,250 per season and less than $5 per hour (the federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour; California’s is currently $8 per hour).

Further, the Raiderettes get paid in full at the end of the season, so they have to wait several months to see any paycheck; this rule may violate a California law that mandates pay at least twice per month.

The suit also alleges that the team imposes arbitrary fines on the cheerleaders, for such offenses as weight gain and bringing the wrong pom-poms to practice, as well as for absence from rehearsals. These fines are deducted from the $1,250 salary. Also, the Raiderettes are not reimbursed for travel or other out-of-pocket expenses, including mandatory requirements such as hairstyling, manicures, and tanning.

Opponents of the suit argue that the cheerleaders join the squad not to earn a living, but rather to use their role as a springboard for publicity and a related career. Other former cheerleaders state that the suit “does not represent them”, noting that even before try-outs, the team made it clear that because cheerleading was a part-time job, the members needed to have another full-time job. Curiously, the Raiders have yet to comment, but issued wage checks shortly before the suit was filed that paid the cheerleaders more than their contracts provided for (about $2,700 each).

The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating this case, and has the power to direct an employer to pay workers twice the amount of any illegally unpaid wages. The plaintiffs’ attorney estimated the Raiderettes could be entitled to $10,000 to $20,000 each in wages and penalties.

In addition to lost dollars, the Raiders risk being hit hard with regard to public opinion and employee relationships. Avoid such losses in your own business by correcting pay practices before a class action suit can arise. Some tips:

    • Pay (at least) minimum wage. This might seem like common sense, but some practice (i.e. fining employees and failing to pay for all hours worked) may cause an employer to inadvertently fail to pay the minimum wage.
    • Pay employees on time. Each state has a different definition of “timely” but most laws require payment every other week or twice monthly.
    • Pay for work-related expenses. If an employee incurs expenses for the employer’s benefit, the employee must be reimbursed if these expenses cause the employee’s pay to fall below the minimum wage.
    • Correctly classify employees as exempt or non-exempt.