Buffalo Bills Cheerleaders' Lawsuit Shines Light on League-Wide Salary Inequity

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2014

Associated Press

By now, many have read about the ongoing lawsuit involving the Bills' cheerleaders, the "Buffalo Jills." On Tuesday, Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported that five former cheerleaders are arguing that the Bills violated New York state minimum wage laws:

Among other things, the lawsuit claims that the Bills and two outside companies that manage the Jills (Citadel Communications Company and Stejon Productions Company) failed to reimburse the Jills for certain business expenses, failed to pay them in a timely manner, took unlawful “deductions and kick-backs” from the wages, and unlawfully took gratuities paid to the Jills.

The plaintiffs claim that they did not receive compensation for working at Bills games. Instead, they received a $90 game ticket and a parking pass. They claim that no compensation was paid for practice time.

According to Deadspin's Billy Haisley, the lawsuit also alleges the Jills had to take part in a weekly physical evaluation where they were subject to "jiggle tests" to determine whether they could perform at games.

Not surprisingly, the Jills have suspended operations for the time being, per ESPN.com's Mike Rodak.

Frank Dolce, a lawyer representing the five Jills members, wonders if this is being done as a means of damage control to shift focus away from the problems at hand. 

David Kohl

"If they cease operations, they will blame the lawsuit for the destruction of the Jills, when that was not intended at all," he said. "We love the Bills. We love the Jills. We do not love the travesty of its management that has occurred over the last few years."

Unfortunately, the Jills are not the only NFL cheerleading unit that has dealt with unfair employment practices. 

The "Oakland Raiderettes" filed a lawsuit back in January over unpaid wages, and the "Cincinnati Ben-Gals" did the same against their employers in February.

As Slate magazine's Amanda Hess points out, the modern-day issues these cheerleaders face reflect outdated, misogynistic values the NFL has chosen to hold on to: 

It’s also because the job description of the modern cheerleader is a hyper-glamorized version of what American women were traditionally expected to do for free, before they entered the workforce en masse: namely, look pretty and support their men.

NFL teams stepped easily into the creepy patriarch role. Today, they enforce expectations for the way their cheerleaders look (according to the suit, the Jills’ guidebook mandates everything from the cheerleaders’ nail polish color to how they clean their vaginas) while rewarding them, not with money, but with the supposed prestige of appearing as one of their city’s most desirable women.

Given that the NFL is a multibillion dollar industry, teams have no excuse for not paying cheerleaders at least minimum wage. Even if the Bills are using a third party to manage the Jills, there's no way they could have been unaware of the unit's nonexistent salary.  

Dec. 16, 2012; Toronto, Ontario, Canada;  Buffalo Jills cheerleaders perform during a stoppage in play during a game between the Buffalo Bills and the Seattle Seahawks at Rogers Centre.  Seahawks beat the Bills 50 to 17.  Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludw
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody is suggesting that these women deserve a king's ransom. They should, however, receive more than free access to the game given all of the time spent in team practices and outside obligations. The Raiderettes' and Ben-Gals' hourly wage, reportedly less than $5 and $3, respectively, are obviously better, but no less deplorable. 

This issue will not die with the Jills. Given that three teams' cheerleaders have come forward just this offseason, future lawsuits are likely to come down the pipeline for other teams that have allowed similar practices.

While these suits may be isolated to specific teams, one can only hope that they lead to widespread change around the league.