Former Cheerleaders Sue the NFL, Alleging Conspiracy Over Unfair Wages

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit speaks out exclusively to "GMA."

ByABC News
February 1, 2017, 3:36 PM

— -- A group of former cheerleaders has filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the NFL, alleging the league and its 26 member teams that employ cheerleaders actively conspired to underpay them and keep them from negotiating better salaries.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, involves four cheerleaders from two different teams, the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders.

“The cheerleading life looks quite glamorous,” the lawsuit's lead plaintiff, a former 49ers cheerleader who asked that her name not be used, told ABC News. “But I think once they see the number that's actually attached to that, it's not what you would think at all.”

The lawsuit alleges the 26 named NFL teams paid cheerleaders around $100 per game and in some cases did not compensate them at all for time spent rehearsing or for other mandatory public appearances.

The lawsuit also claims the teams and the NFL “prohibit female athletes from discussing their wages with each other in a further effort to suppress wages.”

“The NFL and its member teams have intentionally conspired together to thwart competition so that they could pay these women illegally,” Drexel Bradshaw, the lead plaintiff’s attorney, told ABC News.

A spokesman for the NFL, which oversees 32 football teams in all, told ABC News that neither he nor the league's lawyers were aware of the lawsuit and declined to comment.

The lawsuit is seeking between $100 and $300 million in damages.

“I just want them to know their worth, to not be taken for granted,” said the former 49ers cheerleader, a trained ballet dancer who worked for the team from approximately July 2013 to February 2014, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit points out the differences between the salaries of NFL cheerleaders and NFL players and even team mascots. NFL players collectively earned $6.4 billion last year while NFL team mascots earn between $25,000 and $60,000 per year and often receive benefits, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also specifically alleges an agreement between the NFL teams' owners and senior executives.

"This class action challenges a conspiracy among defendants to fix and suppress the compensation of their employees, female athletes colloquially known as 'cheerleaders,'" the lawsuit states. "Without knowledge or consent of employees, defendant NFL Member Teams’ owners and senior executives entered into an agreement or series of agreements to eliminate competition among them for skilled labor employed as 'cheerleaders.'"

A former Oakland Raiders cheerleader, who is a potential class member in the lawsuit, claimed she was paid at the end of the season after deductions for fines.

"When I was on the team we would be paid $125 per game," said Caitlin Yates, a Raiders cheerleader for five years. "And we would be paid that amount in one lump sum at the end of the season... for 10 home games it would be $1,250, minus fines."

Yates was also a plaintiff in a previous lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL. Her case was stayed with the NFL and went to arbitration with the Raiders without a settlement.

"We would be fined for all sorts of things," Yates said of her time as a Raiders cheerleader. "Sometimes if you're missing a certain number of practices you could be fined $40 for that so that all comes out of your paycheck at the end."

The Oakland Raiders did not reply to ABC News for comment. The San Francisco 49ers had no official comment on the lawsuit. The team's cheerleaders, known as Gold Rush, are employees of an entertainment company and not the team.

Cheerleaders have taken action against their teams over wages in the past, including a notable 2014 wage-theft case filed against the Oakland Raiders that the team settled, agreeing to pay $1.25 million in damages, according to ESPN.

A law went into effect last year in California that recognizes professional cheerleaders in the state as employees instead of contractors and provides them with sick leave and overtime pay. The bill was introduced by a California assemblywoman after the 2014 Oakland Raiders' lawsuit was filed, according to ESPN.

The new lawsuit against the NFL comes just days before the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons will compete in Super Bowl LI in Houston. Both teams are named in the lawsuit.