Cheerleaders across the NFL have begun filing suits against their teams and in some cases the NFL, charging an array of offenses including improper working conditions and below-minimum wage payment. Now the NFL has responded to a suit filed by two Oakland Raiderettes cheerleaders, and is declining responsibility for any claims.
The NFL's reasoning follows provisions that prohibit players from bringing antitrust provisions against their teams. The NFL, its attorneys argued in an Alameda County Superior Court filing, is "immune from all state Labor Code provisions," and this is a matter between the team and the Raiderettes alone.
"The NFL is not a party to, and has no authority to enforce the Raiderette Agreement," the NFL's attorneys wrote. "The NFL simply does not belong in this case."
The NFL is not disputing the facts of the case. However, attorneys argued, the NFL cannot be subject to a variety of different state labor codes, since it operates in so many different states. Sports leagues present a "unique" entity, the attorneys contended, and to subject the NFL to a variety of differing and possibly contradictory state legislation would "disrupt and have a significant impact on the whole league fabric, not just on the state's one or two teams."
Naturally, the plaintiffs' attorney termed that strategy a "legal absurdity" with "no logical limit." "If what they say is true, then no employee of any club team is afforded protections," said Drexel Bradshaw of San Francisco's Bradshaw & Associates, which is representing two of the cheerleaders bringing the suit. "That means anyone who is not a player - coaches, custodian, secretaries, groundskeepers, no one would be treated as a legitimate employee."
"Every employee of the Raiders is entitled to all appropriate protections under California law," countered Debra Fischer, one of the NFL's attorneys, in an email to NBC Bay Area. "The assumption of the plaintiffs' lawyer is that if they cannot successfully sue the NFL, then non-player team employees don't have such protections. Of course they do, from the team. The team is their employer, not the NFL."
There are two different suits involving Raiderettes, claiming that the cheerleaders worked in an environment where they needed to change in public and were subject to groping from inebriated fans. The cheerleaders were paid $125 a game, with no additional compensation. However, as of this season cheerleaders are paid $9 an hour, California's minimum wage, for all hours they work.