In a move that could send a signal to teams in other NFL cities, the Jets have agreed to pay nearly $324,000 to cheerleaders to settle a class-action lawsuit in which women claimed they were cheated out of wages, ordered to practices but not paid and forced to cover work-related expenses, like makeup, hair care and transportation.
The lawsuit, settled Friday in state Superior Court in Bergen County, is one of several filed against NFL teams as the league faces pressure from lawmakers in New Jersey and other states to pay cheerleaders according to labor laws.
The settlement comes as the National Football League is contending with broader public relations fights over concussions and lawsuits brought by former players. It also occurs at a time when the NFL has toughened its domestic violence policy after Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized in August 2014 for his handling of an incident in an Atlantic City hotel in which a surveillance camera captured player Ray Rice knocking his fiancée unconscious in an elevator.
The 52 current and former cheerleaders covered in the Bergen County case were all members of the squad known as The Flight Crew during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
The lawsuit was filed in August 2014 by a former cheerleader identified only as “Krystal C.” in the court documents. Her lawyer, Patricia V. Pierce, said none of the women in the class action were identified by name in the lawsuit to protect them from other problems, including stalkers.
According to Pierce, the women were paid $150 per game and issued cheerleader uniforms but were not paid for other work.
She said their compensation did not include time spent learning cheerleader routines and practicing them. She said they were not reimbursed for expenses they incurred to conform to the image required of the cheerleading squad.
For example, all the cheerleaders were required to have straight hair, Pierce said. So Krystal, who has naturally curly hair, had to have hers straightened.
Pierce said the team did not pay for time and cost of travel to and from home games. The squad did not attend road games, she said.
“When you figure all that up, they were making less than minimum wage,” Pierce said.
She said the Jets changed their employment practices with cheerleaders after Krystal filed the suit.
Jets spokesman Bruce Speight referred to a statement drafted when the two sides first reached a preliminary agreement to settle the case in August.
“The Jets deny the claims and the parties have agreed to a settlement to avoid the expense, time and distraction of litigation,” the statement read. A spokesman for the team could not be reached for comment.
As part of the settlement, Jets made no admission of “any liability of wrongdoing whatsoever.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the women will receive $2,559 to $5,913 each, depending upon whether they worked one or both seasons and whether they took part in 2012 and 2013 photo shoots for the Jets’ annual Flight Crew calendars.
Krystal also was awarded an additional $5,000 for her role in initiating the class action lawsuit. All told, the 52 women will receive $205,433.
Their lawyers will be paid about $112,000 in fees and expenses. An additional $6,500 will go to a claims administrator.
The lawsuit is part of a larger trend involving current and former cheerleaders contesting the terms of their compensation.
According to an April 2014 story in the Los Angeles Times, former cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills have filed lawsuits against the teams alleging they were owed compensation for unpaid work.
Earlier this month, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, sponsored a bill that would extend employment protections normally afforded under New Jersey law to cheerleaders affiliated with professional sports teams.
“This would hopefully start calling attention to how these women … are underpaid and not protected,” she said.
Weinberg said she introduced the bill at the request of Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, D-N.Y., who along with several other lawmakers has co-sponsored a bill pending in Albany.
The New Jersey bill would require that cheerleaders are covered by laws governing minimum wage and hours, workers’ compensation, unemployment and temporary disability benefits.
Weinberg said she was unaware of any other professional sports teams in New Jersey that have cheerleaders. The Giants do not have a cheerleading squad.
When asked about the pending legislation in New Jersey and New York, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, “We expect clubs to comply with federal, state and local wage laws.”
Pierce said similar legislation had been introduced in California.
“I think it’s long overdue,” Pierce said.