ALBANY, N.Y. — A proposed class action wage suit filed by a former professional cheerleader for the Buffalo Bills against her former employer on behalf of other cheerleaders for violations of New York Labor Law was certified by a New York state court in early January, 2016. The class would cover six basketball seasons, during each of which the Bills employed about forty cheerleaders. The court stated that the class members’ claims are similar enough to merit class certification and that the number of members makes it impracticable to try each member’s case separately.
Cheerleader Misclassification Claims
According to the suit, the Bills misclassified its cheerleaders as independent contractors under New York state law in order to avoid paying them fair wages. The suit states that the cheerleaders were required to attend all of the team’s home games, attend bi-weekly practices, conduct dance clinics, and attend several public appearances. However, the suit contends that only a portion of this work is paid and that the cheerleaders were paid less than minimum wage over the course of the year. Additionally, the cheerleaders were allowed to earn profit from their sale of swimsuit calendars, assuming that they successfully sold them. Otherwise, the suit contends that the cheerleaders are left with the unsold calendars without any profit. After the suit was filed, the cheerleaders’ operations were suspended by the Bills.
The suit is the latest in a string of legal actions brought by cheerleaders for professional National Football League teams in the last few years. Separate suits were filed against the Oakland Raiders, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Cincinnati Bengals, which resulted in over two million dollars worth of settlement agreements.
Test for Employer-Employee Relationship in New York
According to the New York Department of Labor, there are several factors relevant to the determination of whether an employment relationship exists between a worker and an employer. Generally, the factors that courts consider are the degree of supervision, direction, and control exercised over the worker’s daily activities. If an employer controls the manner, means, and results of the work, then it is likely that an employment relationship exists. Additionally, courts also look at how an individual is compensated and the nature of the services being rendered by the worker. With respect to compensation as an indicator, the New York Department of Labor states that employees are typically paid a salary, an hourly rate of pay, or a draw against future commissions with no requirement for repayment of unearned commissions. Courts will look at this factors regardless of how the participants define the relationship (either employment or independent contractor).
There is no bright-line test for whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. The answer depends on different factors under state law or under federal law, and employers cannot deprive employees of their wage rights simply by categorizing them as independent contractors. If you believe that you have been unlawfully deprived of your wage rights due to misclassification, you should call (855) 754-2795 or complete the Free Unpaid Overtime Case Review form on the top right of this page. Our wage lawyers will evaluate your situation and help you craft the best strategy for obtaining compensation. Call our experienced attorneys today.