New York Jets Accused in Suit of Underpaying Cheerleaders

The New York Jets were accused in a lawsuit of paying cheerleaders less than minimum wage, becoming the fourth National Football League team to face such claims.

A former member of the team’s “Flight Crew,” as the cheerleaders are called, identified in court papers only as Krystal C., sued yesterday in New Jersey Superior Court in Hackensack, saying the team “historically and currently” underpays the squad while paying millions of dollars to its players.

“The cheerleaders are required to work ‘off the clock’ at home, attend rehearsals three days a week from May through December without pay, attend ‘charity events’ without pay and are required to spend their own money on travel, uniform maintenance and cosmetic and hairstyling requirements set by the Jets,” the woman said in the complaint.

The claims are essentially the same as those brought in similar lawsuits filed earlier this year against the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders, Patricia Pierce of Greenblatt Pierce Engle Funt & Flores, an attorney for the Jets cheerleader, said in a statement.

The suit is likely to lead to more litigation against NFL teams with cheerleading squads and may increase scrutiny of other occupations where compensation has been a secondary concern, said Sharon P. Stiller, a labor lawyer with Abrams, Fensterman in Rochester, New York. The question raised in the cheerleader complaints is whether the women are independent contractors or employees, she said.

Suspended Squads

As of the end of last season, there were six teams without full-time cheerleading squads: the Chicago Bears, the Cleveland Browns, the New York Giants, the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bills suspended the operations of their squad, the Buffalo Jills, last month following the suit.

“This is a harbinger of things to come and maybe even for other areas where it’s always been regarded as kind of an honor and the money has been secondary,” Stiller said in a telephone interview. “In the past people have been thrilled just to be a Buffalo Jill or a Raiderette.”

Bruce Speight, a spokesman for the Jets, declined to comment on the suit. Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL, said the league doesn’t comment on team litigation.

Jets cheerleaders are paid $150 a game and $100 for each special event, which comes to only $3.77 an hour when rehearsals and other unpaid work is considered, and goes below $1.50 an hour when hair, makeup and transportation expenses are considered, lawyers for Krystal C. said in a statement.

Flight Crew

The woman was a member of the Flight Crew from June 2012 until the end of the December 2013. She is seeking class-action status for the case.

The first team to face a cheerleader lawsuit was the Oakland Raiders when a former Raiderette filed in California state court in Oakland in January, saying the franchise doesn’t pay overtime or business expenses in accordance with state law.

The following month the Bengals were sued in federal court in Cincinnati by former members of the Ben-Gals, while the Bills were sued in April.

The cases are among those now putting a “magnifying glass” on employment relationships , Stiller said. Other such cases include suits filed by interns who worked on the “Black Swan” movie and football players at Northwestern University who earlier this year asked the National Labor Relations Board to recognize them as school employees, Stiller said.

‘Open Field’

“It’s really an open field now. Plus there are a lot of attorneys who are focusing on their practices on these areas,” Stiller said. “They’ve hit the traditional areas and now it’s time to go to atypical areas.”

The Jets case is Krystal C. v. New York Jets LLC, New Jersey Superior Court, Bergen County (Hackensack). The Oakland Raiders case is Lacy T. v. Oakland Raiders, RG14710815, Alameda County Superior Court (Oakland). The Cincinnati case is Brenneman v. Cincinnati Bengals, 1:14-cv-136, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio (Cincinnati). The Buffalo case is Jaclyn S. v. Buffalo Bills Inc., 804088/2014, New York State Supreme Court, Erie County (Buffalo).

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