A group of former cheerleaders has filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL alleging that the league and its 26 member teams that employ cheerleaders not only underpaid them but kept them from negotiating better salaries. According to an ABC news report, the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. It involves four cheerleaders from two different California teams – the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders. The lawsuit alleges that the 26 NFL teams named in the lawsuit paid cheerleaders around $100 per game and in some cases did not pay anything at all for time they spent rehearsing or going to required public appearances.
The lawsuit also claims that the teams and the NFL prohibit female athletes from discussing their wages with each other in an attempt to suppress their wages or to prevent from negotiating and receiving better wages. An NFL spokesman told ABC news that the league wasn’t aware of the lawsuit, which is seeking between $100 million and $300 million damages.
Astonishing Discrepancy in Wages
The lawsuit even points out the differences between the salaries of the cheerleaders, NFL players and the team mascots. While NFL players collectively earned $6.4 billion last year, team mascots take home anywhere between $25,000 and $60,000 along with benefits. The class action challenges an effort by the defendants to enter into a series of agreements to eliminate competition among them for skilled labor employed as cheerleaders. Many of the women are experienced and accomplished, even classically trained, dancers.
One Raiders cheerleader, a potential class member, said she made $1,250 minus fines after 10 home games. Cheerleaders, she said, would be fined for any number of things including missing practices or personal appearances. In 2014, cheerleaders filed a wage theft case against the Raiders team. That ended with the team settling and agreeing to pay $1.25 million in damages. A California law that went into effect last year recognizes professional cheerleaders in the state as employees as opposed to contractors and requires employers to provide them with sick and overtime pay.
Why Workers File Class Action Lawsuits
Labor laws exist to make sure employers treat their employees the way they are supposed to and that includes paying them fairly and equitably. There are a number of reasons why you might file a class-action lawsuit. This type of claim allows a group of workers who have suffered similar harm or injustice to come together and pursue their claims in a single court action. There are several examples of scenarios where workers may choose to band together as a class:
- Where an employer might not pay workers the required minimum wage as required under federal, state or local law, as the case may be.
- An employer failing to pay employees for meal or rest breaks
- Failure to pay overtime wages. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes requirements for minimum wage, time and a half overtime for employees working more than 40 hours a week and other requirements.
- The FLSA also prohibits employers from allowing non-exempt employees to work “off the clock” without pay.
A number of class-action lawsuits allege violations of the FLSA. In a class-action lawsuit, plaintiffs are allowed to join together to pursue recovery. Workers often have to do little more than opting in to sign up for the class action. The process for creating a class action over wage and hour violations is called a “collective action.”
Understanding the Process
Under the FLSA, an employee who alleges wage or hour violations must first determine if other current or former employees were victims of similar violations. If the employee files for collective action status, the court will typically provide a conditional certification. Plaintiffs will then be allowed to send a notice to potentially class members who will then have the option of joining in the class action.
Unpaid wages usually form the basis of wage and hour class actions. So, the most common form of relief in such cases is back wages. Many companies also choose to settle wage disputes out of court instead of risking the loss of millions of dollars in a jury trial, not to mention the negative publicity it gets them.
In an employment class-action lawsuit, the damages may not only be compensatory, but also punitive, depending on the basis of the lawsuit. For example, punitive damages may be awarded under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law essentially permits the award of punitive damages against nongovernmental employers who engage in a discriminatory with malice or disregard to an individual’s federally protected rights.
Is a Class Action Lawsuit Right for You?
There may be a number of reasons why class-action lawsuits can be advantageous compared to individual lawsuits.Before you decide to file a claim it is a good idea to consult with an employment lawyer Los Angeles. Combining multiple lawsuits into one legal action expedites the process and makes it much easier for the case to move along the system. For example, if 30 or 50 workers were affected by an employer’s alleged illegal practice, it is easier and more efficient for the courts to hear one case rather than 50 different ones. This increases the possibility of the case being adjudicated within a reasonable amount of time.
Also, if the individual damages against each person are relatively small (few hundred or even a few thousand dollars) it may not be worthwhile for each member to invest the time and money required to pursue individual action. Such expenses would pretty much cancel out the damages awarded. Joining several smaller suits into one class-action lawsuit can also help reduce the expenses for individual members making it easier to find legal representation.
It is important to understand that sometimes there may also be reasons why you might not want to pursue a class-action lawsuit. One of the reasons may be that individual plaintiffs must relinquish control over the case when they choose to be part of a group. The class representative along with the attorney will have more of a say in how to proceed with the case and when to settle. Also, the award in a class-action lawsuit may no satisfy those class members who might have been more affected by the employer’s negligence. If your damages are significantly higher than other class members, it may be in your best interest to file an individual lawsuit.
If you have been treated unfairly, discriminated against or haven’t received fair wages, you may be able to be part of a class-action lawsuit. The experienced California class-action employment lawyers at Haeggquist & Eck will be able to help you better understand your legal rights and options. Call us at (949) 724-9200 to find out how we can help you.