Ex-cheerleader sues NFL over low wages

Former ROAR cheerleader explains pay-rate is outlined in contract

A former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader filed a federal lawsuit alleging NFL executives and team owners conspired to suppress wages for cheerleaders.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday by the woman identified only as "Jane Doe" names the league and each football team and seeks class-action status for all NFL cheerleaders, described in court papers as "female athletes."

The NFL and its owners conspired "with the purpose of reducing market competition among female athletes and thus ensuring female athlete earnings remained far below fair market value," the suit alleges.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Wednesday that the NFL hadn't seen the suit and would have no comment.

The suit estimates damages between $100 million and $300 million and demands cheerleaders be paid commensurate with their contributions as "brand ambassadors" for teams.

Cheerleaders received only a flat, per-game fee and weren't paid for rehearsal time or community outreach events, according to the filing in U.S. District Court in San Francisco just days ahead of the Super Bowl.

In addition, cheerleaders were forbidden from being recruited by other teams and prohibited from being employed by "other professional cheerleading teams, not just within the NFL," the suit said.

"Jane Doe" was a cheerleader for the 49ers' "Gold Rush Girls" from July 2013 until February 2014, the filing said.

San Francisco 49ers spokesman Bob Lange said the team doesn't comment on litigation. San Francisco's cheerleaders are outsourced to the entertainment firm E2K, which was not named in the suit. An E2K representative declined to comment.

The alleged conspiracy is "a national scandal among billionaire NFL owners," plaintiffs' attorney Drexel Bradshaw said in a statement. "The free market and legal systems are supposed to protect women as much as men. Here, they failed by not allowing the women to compete, to cheer on different teams, to work for the highest bidder."

According to cheerleaders and experts, there is no base salary. They said every NFL team differs, but that's the expectation when getting into the business. 

Michelle Sipe, a former Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens cheerleader, told News4Jax on Thursday that when cheering for an NFL team, the pay rate is outlined in your contract. 

"When you go through the prep clinics, and the audition process, both organizations that I worked with had very clear outlines of the expectations," Sipe said. "It's how that organization, whether it be the entire league or organization, come to a collaborate value and scale of how they want to pay each and everybody across the board. That's totally up to them."

While the job looks glamorous, Sipe explained that each team has its own personal criteria, motives and budget on how cheerleaders are utilized. She said the ROAR of the Jaguars required members to either work another job or attend school full-time because of the pay rate.

"It was actually communicated, with one of my programs, that you were required to be a full-time student or employed full-time because this isn't a sufficient source of income," Siper said. "It was made clear that it would be a flat-rate for game day and an opportunity for paid appearances."

Sipe added that the lawsuit makes her wonder if the service aspect of the job has been forgotten.

"Considering how much revenue that the NFL generates, pay is always a hot topic when you think about entertainment," Sipe said. 

Last week, a New Jersey court approved a $325,000 settlement between the New York Jets and their cheerleaders over pay. Each of the 52 Jets cheerleaders named in the class-action filing will receive $2,500 for each season they worked in the two-year period covered by the suit.

In 2014, the Oakland Raiders agreed to shell out $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit alleging they failed to pay their cheerleaders minimum wage.