Cheerleaders deemed team employees under new California law

Wed Jul 15, 2015 6:39pm EDT
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Cheerleaders for professional sports teams in California will have to be classified as employees eligible for overtime, sick days and other protections under a bill signed Wednesday by Governor Jerry Brown.

The bill was introduced amid controversy raised by a lawsuit against the 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.

"We would never tolerate shortchanging of women workers at any other workplace. An NFL game should be no different," Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego who authored the bill, said Wednesday.

A former high school and college cheerleader, Gonzalez said in a news release that the bill would ensure that "multi-billion dollar sports teams treat cheerleaders with the same dignity and respect as every other employee."

Backers of the California bill cited the Raiders suit, in which cheerleaders complained that they were considered independent contractors, receiving a small fee for a year's worth of work with no guarantee of minimum wage, overtime, sick leave or benefits.

The cheerleaders alleged that they were treated like employees, with many hours of practice required for their dance routines and numerous performances throughout the year. Similar lawsuits have been filed against other teams.

The NFL said in an emailed statement that it urges all teams to abide by state and federal employment law. The league did not take a stand on the bill.

The new law applies to cheerleaders working with all professional teams based in California, at both the major league and minor league levels. It does not apply to performers who appear just once per year or are not affiliated with a team.

The measure will become law on Jan. 1, 2016.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler)

San Francisco 49ers cheerleaders perform before the NFL's NFC Championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants in San Francisco, California, January 22, 2012.  REUTERS/Jeff Haynes