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As Jills lawsuit lingers, legislation would make NFL cheerleaders 'employees'

courtesy BuffaloJills.com

A downstate lawmaker is proposing legislation that would require the National Football League classify its cheerleaders as employees. Those awaiting for movement in a lawsuit filed by former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders hope the bill can help get the Jills, idled since spring 2014, back on the sidelines.

State Senator Diane Savino, from Staten Island, introduced the proposal that would prevent NFL teams from considering their cheerleaders as independent contractors. Some former cheerleaders, including a group of ex-Buffalo Jills, say teams have underpaid them for their services, if they're paid at all.

The Buffalo Bills are one of five National Football League teams that have been slapped with lawsuits. The case against the Bills, which also names Buffalo Jills promotional and managerial partners as defendants, is currently in the 'discovery of documents' phase, according to Sean Cooney, attorney for the plaintiffs.

"We have clear minimum wage statutes already in New York already that cover cheerleaders like they do all employees," said Cooney when asked about Savino's proposal. "Yet, the NFL has ignored applying those laws to the one profession in the industry that's exclusive to women."

The Buffalo Bills declined to comment when contacted by WBFO. Last week, in a New York Times article, an NFL spokesman said the league supports fair labor and urges its teams to obey prevailing wages.

Yet, the Bills are one of five NFL teams that have been sued over alleged underpayment of cheerleaders. One of the other teams, the Oakland Raiders, reached a settlement. Other teams named in separate lawsuits are the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals.

If Savino's legislation passes, and if Governor Cuomo gets his way with a minimum wage increase for all workers statewide, cheerleaders could make at least $15 an hour by 2021. 

Former Buffalo Jills member Melissa Maderer, who is not a plaintiff in the pending case against the Bills and other partners, welcomes Savino's legislation. But assuming the Jills return to action and a $15/hour minimum wage is enacted, just what should an NFL cheerleader earn, if not minimum wage? It's a question Maderer and others admit not knowing how to answer just yet.

"It's really hard to put a dollar amount on the countless activities that NFL cheerleaders do," Maderer said. "The responsibilities are limitless, and the opportunity is rare, unique and incredible."

It's a position Maderer admits she treated happily as a hobby. But it could soon be a steady job for the women who take part, if Savino, Cooney and others get their way.

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