Any woman who takes a moment to read the allegations against the Oakland Raiders by one of its Raiderette cheerleaders will probably have a moment of recognition about some job from her past where she was patronized or treated like a child.
I know I did.
Lacy T., a 27-year-old rookie Raiderette, filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court alleging the Raiders have broken a laundry list of California employment laws – including underpaying wages, withholding wages for months and forcing cheerleaders to pay expenses the team forces them to incur.
Her move contradicts the idea that a woman is supposed to be so thrilled to get an NFL cheerleading job that she will ignore blatant violations of her employment rights.
By phone Friday, Lacy, 27, told me that it had been her dream “as long as I can remember” to dance in the NBA and the NFL. After moving to California from Louisiana in 2009, she said, she spent two years as a cheerleader for the Golden State Warriors.
In 2013, after getting married and having a daughter, she landed a coveted job as a Raiderette. (The team withholds last names for the safety of its cheerleaders, who can sometimes be the subject of unwanted fan attention; Lacy’s attorneys have chosen to do the same.)
Lacy’s disenchantment set in after she spent months working and training and rehearsing and primping, with no paycheck – and not much to look forward to, either, when the check finally came.
In the suit, which includes her contract with the Raiders, she alleges a laundry list of violations of California labor laws:
The team did not pay her minimum wage or overtime. They did not provide meal or rest breaks during eight-hour-plus shifts. The team reserves the right to deduct money from her paycheck for minor designated infractions. Cheerleaders receive one paycheck per season, nine months after they begin practicing.
And the wages aren’t much to write home about once they do arrive.
Lacy earned $125 per game. That means Raiderettes earn only $1,250 for an entire season. According to Lacy’s attorneys, Leslie Levy and Sharon Vinick, that amounts to less than $5 an hour for all the work they are required to put in. (As a Warrior cheerleader, she earned $10 an hour for 42 home games, practices and appearances. The Warriors also reimbursed her for business expenses.)
The contract requires Raiderettes to attend practices, rehearsals, fittings, drills, photo sessions, meetings and workouts. They receive no pay for any of those mandatory assignments, including the Raiderettes swimsuit calendar, which costs $15 on the Raiders website.
Raiderettes, said the suit, make a total of 300 appearances a year at charity, corporate and community events, and each Raiderette is expected to show up at 10 events. If a Raiderette can’t make an event to which she’s been assigned, she is contractually forbidden from asking another Raiderette to cover for her.
If a Raiderette fails to arrive at an appearance at least 15 minutes before the start time, she is required to make an additional unpaid charity appearance. If a Raiderette fails to attend her required number of charity appearances, she’ll be punished by having to undergo preliminary auditions the following season.
And this is just kind of nauseating: Each season the Raiders publish a schedule of fines for the Raiderettes, to be deducted from their paltry compensation. They can be fined if they forget to bring the right pom poms to practice, if they forget to bring a yoga mat or wear the wrong workout clothing in rehearsals. (Raiderettes have rehearsals two to three times a week. They are compulsory, and, as noted, uncompensated.)
But wait, there’s more: Raiderettes have to use a hairstylist selected by the Raiders, and wear a specific hair style and hair color chosen by the Raiders. Who pays for that? Who do you think?
“People say, ‘You signed the contract,’” said Levy. “But she didn’t know it was illegal. I say, how in the world can a team with a battery of lawyers have drafted such provisions?”
Will Kiss, head of Raiders media relations, told me Friday from Hawaii, site of Sunday’s Pro Bowl, that the team would have no comment on the lawsuit.
Lacy’s lawsuit, which seeks back wages and penalties for herself, and about 100 current and former Raiderettes going back four years, paints a picture of a workplace where women are subjected to conditions that might have been acceptable 50 years ago but are simply ridiculous, if not illegal, today.
You might think the work of professional cheerleaders, who add what is supposed to be clean-cut sexuality to the sidelines of the violent testosterone fests we call football games, is silly or outdated. Perhaps it is. But cheerleaders generate plenty of good publicity and money for their teams. And they do not deserve to be treated any differently than any other performer or worker under state law.
“I have never seen an employment contract with so many illegal provisions,” Vinick said. “The club uses the Raiderettes to build its image, sell merchandise and promote the team…. I don’t know what to call it, other than exploitation.”
On the section of the Raiders website devoted to Raiderette videos, Lacy says her dream is to move back to the South one day and open a competitive dance studio. “It’s important to me to be a role model,” she says.
By sticking up for her rights against an NFL team that sells itself with a certain pirate-like swagger, I’d say she already is.