Oakland Raiders cheerleaders perform on the left and Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders dance on the right.
Inspired by a pair of Oakland Raiderette lawsuits that claim the Raiders' cheerleaders are being paid the equivalent of about $5 an hour, a cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals has filed a similar claim, alleging she makes just half that.
Ben-Gals cheerleader Alexa Brenneman filed a Class Action complaint (PDF) on Tuesday against the Cincinnati Bengals in U.S. District Court in Ohio. It it, she claims she is not paid for hours that she must attend practice, promote the team calendar and attend mandatory charity events.
Brenneman came forward as a direct result of the two Raiderettes' suits filed in Alameda County Superior Court this winter, according to her attorney Todd Naylor, of Goldenberg Schneider in Cincinnati.
"It gave her the courage to stand up for the squad," Naylor said in a phone interview on Thursday.
Brenneman claims that cheerleaders work about 300 hours a year for the Bengals organization and are paid, "at most, $90 for each home football game at which they cheer." That translates into about $2.85 an hour in a state where the minimum wage is $7.85 an hour.
In a statement sent to media outlets, the Bengals wrote:
The Ben-Gals cheerleading program has long been a program run by former cheerleaders and has enjoyed broad support in the community and by members of the squad. Yesterday’s lawsuit appears to be a copycat lawsuit that mimics the one filed last month in California against a different NFL club. The Bengals will address the litigation in due course.”
In turn, the Ben-Gals' suit is heartening for Leslie F. Levy, the attorney representing the two Raiders cheerleaders who she says have become the first in the country to file such a claim against an NFL team. She thought Brenneman's suit was "fabulous," and she hoped more cheerleaders would start to come forward.
"This is an issue that is very ripe at the moment," Levy told NBC Bay Area on Thursday.
The Raiderette cheerleaders -- identified in court documents as Sarah G. (PDF) and Lacy T. -- claim similar "flagrant violations," including that they were not getting paid for all of the hours that they work.
For example, Raiderettes sign a contract to get paid $125 a game on game days, which last 10 hours, but that's all they get paid for, Levy said. They do not get paid for the two practices they attend each week or for the charity events they must attend.
The cheerleaders also start their season in April and don't get paid until January, which Levy said, is a direct violation of California law. Employees must get paid every two weeks.
The Raiders have repeatedly declined comment on this case, and Levy said that the team has not yet been formally served because of some legal technicalities.
It's taken the two Raiderettes such a long time to come forward, Levy said, because of the cheerleading culture in the NFL.
"They're told that if they don't like it, 400 women will take their place," she said. "It's like a sisterhood and they're told, 'Don't break the ranks, this is an honor.' "
The women want to be cheerleaders, Levy said, because it is indeed fun, athletic and a great outlet for dancers to work.
As for why they would sign a contract that paid them well below the minimum wage?
"Well, many of these women are too excited once they're hired and just sign the contract," Levy said. "Many don't even know it's illegal until after they sign. My question back is, 'Why would a reputable organization put a contract in front of these women with these illegal provisions?' "