Because wage and hour lawyers have already pursued class action lawsuits against nearly all of the obvious targets (restaurants, car washes, pharmaceutical sales, and loan officers, just to name a few), creative attorneys have increasingly turned to more esoteric industries, such as strip clubs, Uber drivers, and cheerleading.
During the past three years, overtime claims have been filed on behalf of cheerleaders against the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, and other professional sports franchises. The first cheerleader overtime case was brought against the Raiders.
Last week, the Cincinnati Bengals agreed to pay up to $255,000 to settle a class action brought by cheerleader Alexa Brenneman against the team. Ms. Brenneman, individually and on behalf of the Bengals’ other cheerleaders, alleged that she spent countless hours practicing, appearing at community events, and participating in promotional activities for the team. According to Ms. Brenneman’s complaint, the number of hours that Bengals’ cheerleaders spend on the field pale in comparison to the endless amount of time that they must sacrifice for the team. Ms. Brenneman alleged in her complaint that she worked “well in excess of 300 hours” for the Bengals during the 2013 football season, yet she was only paid a total of $855.00. Even by Ohio standards, that amount is a pittance. According to the complaint, after totaling all of the time that Ms. Brenneman devoted to the Bengals, she had a pay rate of less than $2.85 per hour.
Under the terms of the proposed settlement, anyone who was employed by the Bengals as a cheerleader between Feb. 11, 2011, and Jan. 31, 2014, will be eligible to receive $2,500 for each season they worked during the class period, while lead plaintiff Alexa Brenneman would receive $5,000.
When I reviewed the docket of the Brenneman case, I noticed that the complaint attaches a 6-page document labelled Cincinnati Ben-Gal Rules. This is basically a rule book for Bengals cheerleaders. I found it to be bizarre. There is an obsessive (and, in my opinion, offensive) focus on the cheerleaders’ weight. Among other things, the Ben-Gal Rules require cheerleaders to have their weight recorded twice per week to collect “data” that will be used to determine each cheerleader’s “ideal weight”. According to the Ben-Gal Rules:
Weight is a constant evaluation process throughout the season your scale weight is taken into consideration along with overall body appearance to determine cheer eligibility.
Cheerleaders are also required to endure something known as a “Glamour Evaluation” (whatever that means), and if they are above their “ideal weight” for too long, they are prohibited from attending charity events.
Ben-Gal Rules strictly forbid the Bengals cheerleaders from wearing panties. That’s right. No underwear …. seriously. Here’s what the Ben-Gals Rules say about panties: “No panties are to be worn under the practice clothes or uniform, not even thong panties”.
The Ben-Gale Rules end with the admonition to cheerleaders that they “are now in an elite professional organization”. Yeah, right. How many elite organizations pay their employees $2.85 per hour and forbid them from wearing underwear?