The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protects all employees working throughout the United States. It guarantees things like a minimum wage (which is currently set at $7.25 per hour) access to social security, and premium compensation for all overtime worked. The FLSA also defines overtime as all overtime spent working after eight hours a day or forty hours a week.
The FLSA does allow certain workers to be held exempt from these protections, but it is very specific about the qualifications workers must meet in order to be held exempt. The Act provides employees with these protections because employers generally have much more leverage than their workers, especially workers earning minimum wage. The Act therefore withholds these protections only from employees that have sufficient leverage to negotiate their own terms of work. These employees include salaried administrative assistants, executive employees, professional employees, and independent contractors.
Independent contractors are self-employed individuals who work for other individuals or a company on a contract basis. They usually have multiple clients and are therefore able to say no to a client they don’t want to work with. This gives them the leverage to negotiate their own rates and the terms under which they work.
Because independent contractors are exempt from the protections provided by the FLSA, the Act is very specific about the qualifications a worker needs to meet in order to be classified as an independent contractor. She must be able to negotiate her own rates, make her own hours, control the environment she works in, and choose the attire she wears while working.
Cheerleaders don’t fit any requirements, and yet several NFL teams regularly classify their cheerleaders as independent contractors. Most recently, the cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills were allowed to move forward in the court as a class action after a New York judge allowed everyone who has worked as a Buffalo Bills cheerleader since 2008 to combine their claims into one lawsuit. Before the ruling, five cheerleaders had brought individual lawsuits against the team.
The lawsuit claims the cheerleaders were allegedly paid less than minimum wage and that the team sometimes required them to attend events, even when the cheerleaders weren’t paid for those events. The Bills allegedly controlled every aspect of the cheerleaders’ work, including their appearance, their behavior, and the music selection. The cheerleaders allege they were given strict dress codes and that they were often made to feel uncomfortable by some of the male attendees of the events.
The Buffalo Bills deny having done anything illegal and claim the class action is a result of a few former cheerleaders. The team does not think the lawsuit reflects the feelings of all the cheerleaders who cheer on the Buffalo Bills.
But the Buffalo Bills are far from the only NFL team to face such a class action lawsuit from their cheerleaders. The cheerleaders for the Raiders claimed they had been paid less than $5 per hour and that lawsuit ended in a $1.25 million settlement. The Buccaneers paid $825,000 to settle similar claims from their cheerleaders.
Our Dale, Bensenville and Winfield wage and hour attorneys and unpaid overtime lawyers and attorneys are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Many employers misclassify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying them overtime. Some employers mistakenly classify employees as exempt and others intentionally do so in order to circumvent the law. In either case, workers do not receive the wages they should, and a lawsuit may be the only way to recover their earned wages.
Nationwide Consumer Rights is based in Chicago and Oakbrook Terrace. We represent clients throughout the country who have not been paid for the overtime hours that they worked. If you believe that you are owed overtime wages, contact one of our Chicago class action attorneys by phone at 630-333-0333 or through our online form.