After professional cheerleaders slapped at least five National Football League teams with lawsuits claiming labor law violations in recent months, cheerleaders’ fight for fair pay has entered a new arena: the National Basketball Association.
A former Milwaukee Bucks cheerleader, Lauren Herington, last week sued the team for violating the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act and Wisconsin’s prevailing wage and payment laws. The pay that Herington and other Bucks cheerleaders received—$65 per game, $30 per practice, and $50 for each special appearance—did not meet Wisconsin’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour based on the time that they logged. The team required its cheerleaders to arrive two-and-a-half hours before games, rehearse five to 10 hours each week, and participate in workout sessions for 15 to 20 hours per week. All told, Herington took home about $3.50 to $4.50 per hour and was not paid for overtime when she put in more than 40 hours a week.
Her lawsuit, a class action filed on behalf of other Bucks cheerleaders, is seeking back wages to bring their hourly rate up to minimum wage and for unpaid overtime.
Bucks spokesperson Jake Suski said in a statement that the team “strongly disagree” with Herington’s claims. “The lawsuit presents inaccurate information that creates a false picture of how we operate. The Bucks value the contributions our Dancers make to the team. We treat all of our employees fairly, including our Bucks dancers, and pay them fairly and in compliance with federal and state law.” He said that the lawsuit is without merit, and the team plans to contest its allegations in court.
The case against the Bucks comes after cheerleaders in the NFL filed several lawsuits with similar claims of unfair pay against the Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, and New York Jets. The first of those lawsuits, which was filed by the Raiderettes in January 2014, resulted in the team agreeing to a $1.25 million settlement last year that applied to 90 former cheerleaders, each of whom received at least $2,500 for each season they worked. The settlement was reached despite a declaration by the Department of Labor in March 2014 that the Raiderettes could be exempted from minimum wage laws because they are “seasonal” employees. The Buccaneers settled with disgruntled cheerleaders for $825,000 in March.
In addition to financial payouts, the lawsuits have prompted legislative action. In July, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that requires professional sports teams to consider cheerleaders employees and pay them at least minimum wage while compensating them for all practices and appearances. Lawmakers in New York state proposed a similar bill in June.