This week brought mixed news for the former professional cheerleaders who kicked off a wave of NFL cheerleader lawsuits when they sued the Oakland Raiders for alleged wage theft in January.
Instead of presenting their claims to a jury as they had hoped, Lacy T. and Sarah G. will be heading to arbitration with the team next month, according to an agreement they reached with the Raiders this week.
But it could have been worse: Their contracts stipulated that any dispute had to be settled in arbitration overseen by the National Football League itself, a blatant but common conflict of interest in employment contracts. That will no longer be the case. This week's agreement also appears to clear a path for the claim to proceed as a class-action lawsuit.
"We are very pleased that we now have a lawsuit in which absolutely we will be able to pursue claims on behalf of all the women who have worked as Raiderettes," said the cheerleaders' attorney, Sharon Vinick. "Because we negotiated this agreement, it doesn't have the downsides of forced arbitration."
If the two sides cannot reach an agreement next month in mediation, the Raiders have agreed to allow the case to be decided by an impartial arbitrator with no connection to the league. (To refresh your sense of outrage, here's my post on the icky Raiderettes handbook.)
In other Raiderettes legal news this week — and who knew that would ever be a category? — two other former Raiderettes, Caitlin Y. and Jenny C., filed a separate lawsuit against the Raiders in Alameda County Superior Court alleging the team underpaid them and failed to pay overtime or reimburse them for travel expenses while requiring them to spend thousands of unreimbursed dollars on personal grooming, etc.
The lawsuit essentially makes the same claims as the first, with one major addition. The pair is also suing the NFL. (The first lawsuit only named the Raiders as defendants.)
The new lawsuit alleges that the league violated anti-trust laws by acting in concert with teams to depress the wages of all NFL cheerleaders. The NFL requires all contracts with nonplayers to be filed with the league, said Drexel Bradshaw, the attorney who filed the second suit, which he said makes the league culpable for any illegal provisions.
"The point we are trying to make is that this is a systematic problem present in all the franchises," Bradshaw told me. "Not a single franchise is paying their cheerleading squad what they pay their mascot. I can't imagine how you are violating state and federal minimum wage laws around the country so systematically and not handling this problem." (While Raiderettes earn about $125 per game, the Raiders mascot, said Bradshaw, earns $40,000 a year, which works out to $2,500 per game, plus benefits. "I realize it's a sweaty costume," he said drily.)
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told me the league has not seen the lawsuit yet. But he said the requirement that contracts for nonplayers to be filed with the league refers to coaches, not cheerleaders.
"The league is not involved with the operations of any cheerleading groups," said McCarthy. "The clubs determine if they want to have cheerleaders and their role. The league has no role in their selection, duties, hours or wages." Six of the league's 32 teams do not have cheerleading squads. The Buffalo Bills recently suspended their cheerleading operation after five former cheerleaders filed a wage theft lawsuit.
Friday morning I spoke with Caitlin Y., 26, who said she grew increasingly disillusioned with the Raiders over her four seasons as a Raiderette.
"I wanted to be a Raiderette more than anything in the world," said Caitlin, who is publicity director for a cosmetics company. "I trained my whole life — expensive dance training. When I made the team, it was the best day of my life. I was so obsessed, I went out and bought a Raiders toaster that would imprint the pirate logo on my toast every morning."
She decided to sue the league as well as the team, she said, to help improve wages and working conditions for all NFL cheerleaders. (Cheerleaders from three other teams have filed similar lawsuits against the Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.)