“I’m Not in the Front Anymore”: Raiderette Opts Out of Class Action Wage Labor Settlement With Raiders

A Raiderette who sued the Oakland Raiders over the wages she was paid is rejecting a settlement in another cheerleader's lawsuit, saying it doesn't do enough to fix what she calls the misogynistic culture of the NFL.

Caitlin Y. had danced in the front of the Raiderettes’ cheerleading line for three years. Now, ever since she sued the Raiders and the NFL in June, she says she has been relegated to the second row.

“I’m not in the front anymore,” the 27-year-old ballet dancer told NBC Bay Area in an exclusive interview. “I’ve been put in the back. But that’s OK. It’s all about being part of the team.”

Caitlin, who has accused the team and the league of wage theft and "deplorable" working conditions, formally opted out of a $1.25 million class-action settlement Monday in a fellow cheerleader's suit, saying it doesn't go far enough.

"It doesn’t include the entire NFL," Caitlin, who works as the PR director for a family-run Mountain View skin care company, explained. "It’s a league-wide issue that affects cheerleaders on all teams, not just ours. By accepting this, the NFL gets off the hook."

Caitlin — who like many other NFL cheerleaders prefers not to use her last name, for fear of stalking — wants to push harder for the Raiders and the NFL to pay more, and pay it evenly among cheerleaders across the league.

Michael Koo

Her decision to opt out means she will not take the roughly $20,000 owed to her as part of the class action settlement tentatively reached in September, her lawyer Drexel Bradshaw explained. In the formal “objection” filed in Alameda County Superior Court, her attorneys argue that the Raiderettes as a whole are “owed millions and millions.”

Specifically, the legal filing says the class action underpays the Raiderettes somewhere between $1.5 million and $2.7 million – or at least $17,000 per Raiderette per year. The lawyers plan to argue this in court on Feb. 26 during a class action hearing.

"This is far, far from over," he said.

The Raiders have repeatedly declined comment, as has the NFL, whose spokesman and attorneys have not returned calls and emails. The NFL has argued in court, however, that the labor dispute was solely between the cheerleaders and the Raiders, and that the league does not belong in the suit.

Caitlin will not pinpoint a dollar amount that she thinks she should be paid. But she says the class action amount — roughly $5,000 a year for each year worked for each of the 90 cheerleaders — is not enough and doesn’t address the root of the problem.

But she and her lawyer both say that the Raiderettes should be paid more than minimum wage, which was $9 in Oakland at the time.

“These women should be paid more than the Raiders’ mascot, who makes $45,000 a season, plus a pension,” Bradshaw said. “They are obviously athletes and classical dancers, and to pay them $9 an hour is laughable. The guy pouring beer at the concession stands makes more than that.”

Bradshaw said Caitlin is rejecting the payout because the settlement doesn’t address the "misogynous" nature of the NFL, which has come under fire for how it responds to domestic violence accusations against players.

The settlement, if approved by the court, would resolve a similar wage suit brought by another Raiderette, Lacy T., in January and would include 90 other cheerleaders. That suit, the first of its kind in the country, was the force behind a new contract that ensures the Raiderettes make $9 an hour for all hours they work — not just for games.

Even as Caitlin opts out of the class-action settlement in that suit, she and her co-plaintiff — Jenny C., a former Raiderette who now lives in Las Vegas — plan to keep pursuing their joint suit against the NFL. Their suit accuses the league of violating antitrust laws by "acting in concert with teams to depress the wages of all NFL cheerleaders."

Lacy’s lawyer, Sharon Vinick of Oakland, isn’t quite sure why Caitlin wouldn’t buy in to the class action. “We obviously believe it’s an outstanding settlement,” she said. Vinick added while she agrees that the Raiderettes are still “woefully underpaid,” she does not think the Raiders have a legal mandate to pay them more, and that there is no legal basis for suing the NFL, because “the women don’t work for the NFL.”

But a labor expert sees it differently.

"It's understandable that some cheerleaders might find the settlement inadequate," said San Francisco State University Professor and Director of Labor and Employment Students John Logan. "The settlement... puts the cheerleaders, who have a high-profile job in a multi-billion dollar industry, on the same level of poverty-wages as WalMart or McDonald's workers. WalMart and McDonald's workers deserve more, and it's not hard to understand why some NFL cheerleaders believe they deserve more."

While she does want more. Caitlin will not discuss the details of how she's being treated on the team as she pursues her legal claims. She would not disparage the Raiders or her fellow cheerleaders. She insisted she doesn't mind that she doesn't dance in the front anymore; she just wants to dance and get paid fairly for it.

"I know that I’m lucky to have this job," she said. "I love this job. I love being a cheerleader, and I love the Raiders. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be treated with respect or paid adequately for the skills that I've trained for my whole life and I use on game day."

 
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