California: Cheerleaders Are Now Classified Employees under New Law

Professional cheerleaders who are considered as independent workers/contractors, hold very little or no rights as an employee under federal or state laws. However, under a new law in California, a potential change has been made to the employment status of these cheerleaders. The Assembly Bill 202 (AB202) was signed by the state Governor Jerry Brown on July 15, 2015.[1] The Bill required for the California professional sports teams to classify and consider their cheerleaders as employees. California is the first of its kind in country to pass this Bill and it enables these professional cheerleaders for minimum wage, overtime, sick days, and other labor law protections.[2]

The said Bill was proposed by Assembly woman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego stating that –

“We would never tolerate shortchanging of women workers at any other workplace. An (National Football Leauge) NFL game should be no different.”

She further added that –

The bill would ensure that multi-billion dollar sports teams treat cheerleaders with the same dignity and respect as every other employee.”

This was introduced amidst controversy resulting from a lawsuit wherein 90 current and former Oakland Raiderette cheerleaders filed a wage-theft lawsuit against the Oakland Raiders. [Lacy T. v. The Oakland Raiders, Case No. RG14710815(2014)][3]. Subsequently, Oakland Raiders that culminated in the football team’s agreement to pay a settlement of $1.25 million to 90 members of the cheerleading squad. In fact Raiders’ cheerleaders alleged that they were paid below the minimum wage, were not paid for work rendered or untimely paid and were provided no meal or rest breaks. The cheerleaders claimed that they were paid less than $5 an hour for their appearances at games, rehearsals and other special public events besides being treated like employees with regular practice hours throughout the year.

AB202 added Section 2754 to the State Labor Code, which guarantees protection to professional sports cheerleaders from employment exploitation and guarantees them basic employee rights. NFL almost took a neutral stand and did not directly oppose the bill. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said that the league does not manage cheerleaders’ employment and advised teams to follow state and federal employment laws.

The new law applies to cheerleaders working both with the major league and the minor league levels based in California, but do not apply to performers who appear just once per year or are not affiliated with a team. The new law is to take effect from January 1, 2016.[4]

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