|Five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders on Tuesday sued the team over a pay system they say had them working hundreds of hours for free at games and at mandatory public appearances at which they were subjected to groping and sexual comments, and one said they had to take a jiggle test so their boss could see how firm their bodies were.
The state Supreme Court lawsuit is the third filed this year against a National Football League team by cheerleaders. The Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals also have pending wage battles.
The case against the Bills says its cheerleaders, the Buffalo Jills, are wrongly classified as independent contractors and are subjected to policies that violate the state's $8 per hour minimum wage law and other workplace rules.
"The question here will be whether they are employees of the Buffalo Bills or whether they are independent contractors," said Daniel Greene, attorney at the Connors and Vilardo Law Firm.
"If they're independent contractors there's a different standard than if they're employees," he says.
A large part of that different standard is that independent contractors are not bound by the same minimum wage laws that most employees are.
It seems like a simple, even routine lawsuit, so why does it have the attention of so many?
"The Buffalo Bills are paying a defensive end $16 Million this year, yet other employees or independent contractors are making less than minimum wage. It's something that is unique but ultimately just boils down to the labor law," Greene says.
|SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
or At The Bottom of This Page
|Exclusive WBEN Audio
Buffalo's Early News In-Studio In Depth:
Hear John Zach and Susan Rose with....
|Attorney Lindy Korn,
who concentrates her practice on sexual harassment and related workplace issues
|Kristine- A Buffalo Jill From 2002- 2006 A conversation in 3 Parts
On: "The Jiggle Test", Perks & Pay On Standards On Memories
|From the complaint:
In addition to the rules previously cited, defendants also provided the Jills with rules regarding general hygiene and body maintenance (a list of 17 rules), appearance etiquette (17rules), conversation starters for appearances and general etiquette, etiquette for formal dining (25rules), and rules for communicating with people with disabilities (17 rules).
|A lawsuit may also raise eyebrows when proper "intimate maintenance" is involved.
"That's perhaps the more sensational part of this case, a case within a case, which is, is there an unsafe work environment? Was there any sort of intentional affliction of emotional distress,"
-- Labor Law Attorney Daniel Greene, Connors & Vilardo
|Since the suit was filed, a number of former Jills have come forward - mostly in social media - to say that they were fully aware of what the job entailed and even read a 12 page manual before signing on to the team.
"It's a job. and they make it very clear, you have to have an above average physique, an above average look with everything about you. Just like Miss America or a Victoria's Secret model. You have to have that look, says Kristine, a former Jill who didn't want her last name used because she recognizes the controversial nature of the issue and doesn't want public ridicule.
She says none of the Jills she knows signed on for the pay, and each received experiences they knew would outweigh any monetary gains- from small perks such as makeup and hair services, to trips overseas on goodwill missions to visit troops..
"The memories we shared should not be diminished or tarnished by the few who would forfeit this for monetary compensation," Kristine wrote on her Facebook page."
"I knew that other teams got paid. That other teams got paid for games and practices, but that was their contract. It didn't bother me," she says.
As for the nature of the job?
There was never (a time ) when I was walking through in a bikini, where people could touch me and grab me. There was security around. You were on a stage. You had your own dressing room. It wasn't that I was walking around delivering shots. I was modeling a bikini," she says.
The Bills' cheerleaders aren't paid for games or practices and have to make 20-35 appearances, most of which are unpaid, at community and charity events each season, the lawsuit said. On top of that, they have to pay $650 for their uniforms and are not reimbursed for travel or other expenses, the cheerleaders said Two members of the Jills squad held a news conference Tuesday with their attorney,
The time and expense, as well as rules governing their personal lives, far exceeded what they signed on for, the women said.
The civil action, which seeks unspecified back pay and legal fees, names Stejon Productions Corp., which assumed management of the Jills in 2011, along with former manager Citadel Communications Co. and the Buffalo Bills.
Stejon President Stephanie Mateczun said she could not comment on the claims. Buffalo Bills spokesman Scott Berchtold said the team's policy is not to discuss pending litigation. A Citadel spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Since the lawsuit was filed a number of former Jills have launched campaigns and posted comments on social media to tell their side of the story, sharing treasured memories that differ greatly from the claims made by the plaintiffs.
"When I signed up, I did it for the love of the game," writes Kristine, a former Jill who is telling her story (more at left)
The cheerleaders are identified in the legal complaint only by their first names and last initials in the lawsuit, which cites a provision that allows plaintiffs to remain anonymous "where identification poses a risk of retaliatory physical or mental harm."
Their complaint describes "demeaning and degrading treatment," including being required to wear bikinis at various events such as an annual golf tournament at which cheerleaders were "auctioned off like prizes" and subjected to "degrading sexual comments and inappropriate touching."
Mateczun, the cheerleaders said, controlled everything from their hair and nail polish color to what they could post on Facebook.
"Everything from standing in front of us with a clipboard having us do a jiggle test to see what parts of our body were jiggling," cheerleader Alyssa U. said, "and if that was something that she saw, you were getting benched."
Alyssa U. estimated she was paid a total of $420 during the 2012-13 football season. Another cheerleader, Maria P., said she received $105.
The cheerleaders and their attorney Frank Dolce of Buffalo said they hope their legal action leads to policy changes within the Bills' organization that ensure future cheerleaders are paid and treated better.
"We are Bills fans," Dolce said. "We definitely want our organization and other organizations in the NFL to respect the rights of these cheerleaders."
Several former Jills have been sharing their support for the organization on Facebook: