Buffalo Bills Cheerleaders Sue Team over Alleged Violations of Minimum Wage Laws

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2014

The Buffalo Jills' perform before an NFL preseason football game featuring the Buffalo Bills against the Detroit Lions Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
Gary Wiepert

Updates from Tuesday, July 1

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk passed along the latest in the Buffalo Bills' lawsuit involving their cheerleaders:

In response to the lawsuit filed by several former members of the Buffalo Jills against various defendants, the Buffalo Bills filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that they do not actually employ the cheerleading squad.

In that initial skirmish, the Bills have done what they often do on the football field.  They’ve lost.

Judge Timothy J. Drury has concluded that the question of whether the Bills employ the Jills can’t be decided without considering some of the facts of the case.  Which makes it impossible to throw the case out at the opening stage of the process.

Updates from Wednesday, May 7

ESPN's Mike Rodak has the latest on the Jills' lawsuit:

"It has also been incredibly disappointing to see the complete lack of accountability on the part of the Buffalo Bills organization as it relates to this complaint," Stephanie Mateczun said in a statement released Wednesday by her attorney. "The Buffalo Bills own the trademark for the Jills; they control the field and everything that happens on that field, from the uniforms the cheerleaders wear to the dances they perform.

"Yet the organization appears content to attempt to wash their hands of any connection to their own cheerleading squad."


"It was only after serious and thoughtful consideration, consultation with my attorneys, and with the best interest of the women who are members of the squad in mind, that the decision was made to suspend all activities for the Jills until this legal matter can be resolved," Mateczun said in the statement.

"The Bills refuse to operate the Jills in the same fashion as the 25 other NFL teams that have cheerleading squads do," Mateczun's attorney, Dennis C. Vacco, said in a separate statement. "Unfortunately, the manner in which the Bills have handled this issue has left Stejon with no other option. The cheerleading squad exists for the benefit of the Bills, but without their support, the Jills cannot continue to operate."

Updates from Friday, April 25

One of the former Bills cheerleaders suing the team told Ryan Buxton of The Huffington Post about some of what they had to endure:

"One week prior to the game, we were to dress in our uniforms and stand before our coach, who had a clipboard in her hand, and we had to face forward, turn around, face back to the front and do about 10 jumping jacks. And from there, she would write down on her notepad what parts of our bodies jiggled," she said.

The next day, the women would receive an email with checkmarks that indicated what body parts -- including "butt, thighs, back, stomach" -- they needed to work on.

"If a girl got two checks in these areas, she was warned that she was not going to be field ready, and if there were three check marks, then she was not performing, she was sitting the next game," Alyssa said.

Updates from Thursday, April 24

Mike Rodak of ESPN has the latest on the Bills cheerleaders' suit against the team:

The Buffalo Bills' cheerleaders have suspended operations after five former cheerleaders filed a lawsuit Tuesday claiming they were underpaid and mistreated.

Stephanie Mateczun, president of Stejon Production corp., which manages the "Buffalo Jills", confirmed to ESPN on Thursday that operations were suspended. She withheld further comment.

Original Text

The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business, practically printing money as it continues to dominate the American sporting scene. Yet according to a lawsuit filed by several former Buffalo Jills—the clever moniker given to the Buffalo Bills' cheerleaders—the team failed to give them proper compensation.   

Mike Rodak of ESPN provided the news, citing WGRZ:

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk offers more context:

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.

The complaint includes many other detailed allegations of unpaid work and degrading assignments, from an annual golf tournament to a “man show” at a local casino to a calendar release party.  They contend that they were required to buy 50-75 swimsuits calendars and then resell them on their own time, and that they were subject to “an onerous set of rules dictating how the women could walk, talk, dress, speak and behave, both in uniform and in their personal lives.”

This is hardly a unique situation in the NFL. In January, former and current Oakland Raiders cheerleaders sued the team, claiming they weren't paid until after the season and were only awarded $1,250 per year, calculated to be less than $5 an hour.

Dec 22, 2013; Orchard Park, NY, USA; The Buffalo Bills cheerleaders perform during the first half of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

And in February, former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders Alexa Brenneman followed suit, suing the team for allegedly only paying her $90 per game and not compensating her for practice time or other team activities.

If the above allegations are true, it's a really bad look for the organizations in question. Cheerleaders are asked to essentially be representatives of an organization, and it doesn't speak well of those organizations if they don't properly align the compensation they pay cheerleaders with the amount of time they expect them to promote the team.

To put this all in perspective, the Chicago Tribune estimates that the average professional mascot earns about $25,000 per year. Not a ton of money, sure, but far more than cheerleaders are making. And both fill similar roles—they are there to pump up the crowd during games, make appearances off the field and generally serve as ambassadors for the team.

That makes the disparity in pay pretty questionable.

Given the relatively short duration of time between these lawsuits, it would hardly be surprising if more cheerleading teams from around the NFL began to file their own grievances if there are other respective violations. At the absolute least, they should be earning minimum wage, and arguably more than that.

One way or another, this feels like a developing situation. The NFL certainly has plenty of the revenue pie to pass around, and the cheerleaders deserve to receive their proper bite. 


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