New California Law Classifies Cheerleaders as Employees

By Miriam Straus, Esq. Attorney Straus is an associate at Kalogredis, Sansweet, Dearden and Burke, Ltd. in Wayne, Pennsylvania where she focuses on litigation and healthcare issues. She was also a gymnast at Brown University before attending the George Washington University Law School.

California is often a hotbed of progressive policies and unique legal conflicts in the highly active 9th Circuit. California sports are no different as cheerleaders recently scored a major labor law victory.

Last month, California passed a law that requires the state’s professional sports teams to classify their cheerleaders as employees for purposes of state labor laws. The legislation (AB-202) was signed into law on July 15, 2015, following several high-profile lawsuits by NFL cheerleaders.

In March 2015, a California court granted final approval of the $1.25 million settlement of a class action lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders brought by two Raiderettes. The plaintiffs alleged various state law violations, including failure to pay cheerleaders for hours worked, failure to pay overtime, failure to provide meal and rest breaks, and unlawful deductions from their pay. Similar lawsuits have been filed against the Buffalo Bills, the New York Jets, the Cincinnati Bengals, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In addition, a second lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL was filed in January 2015.

“We would never tolerate the shortchanging of women workers at any other workplace. An NFL game should be no different,” said AB-202 sponsor Lorena Gonzalez in a press statement. Gonzalez, a State Assemblywoman from San Diego, is a former high school and college cheerleader.

The California law affects professional sports teams that play a majority of their home games in California. “Professional sports teams” are defined as major and minor league teams in baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey, and soccer. “Cheerleaders” are defined as individuals who perform acrobatics, dance, or gymnastics on a recurring basis. The term excludes those who perform no more than once per calendar year at games, exhibitions, or events and who are not otherwise affiliated with a California-based team.

Cheerleaders are not the only group challenging professional sports teams’ payment policies. In the Northern District of California, former minor league baseball players have brought a class action lawsuit against Major League Baseball (MLB), MLB franchises, and former commissioner Bud Selig, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state labor laws. On July 13, 2015, the court denied a motion to dismiss, deferring the questions of standing and failure to state a claim until after class certification.

Both the new cheerleading law and the minor league baseball players’ lawsuit will likely lead to dramatic changes in how these often underpaid employees are treated in California and around the nation as the ripple effect of California’s policies hits other states.

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