Cincinnati Bengals sued by cheerleaders for minimum wage violation

Posted on: February 21st, 2014 by Steve Larson
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Fotolia FootballThe Cincinnati Bengals organization was sued  in a putative class action in Ohio federal court alleging it denies its cheerleaders minimum wage, less than a month after current and former members of the Oakland Raiders  cheer squad filed suit over similar allegations.  Lead plaintiff Alexa Brenneman claims she spent nearly 300 hours working for the Bengals last season as a member of the “Ben-Gals” cheer squad but was paid a total of just $855 — equal to $2.85 per hour, or $5 under Ohio’s minimum wage. She resigned at the end of the season.

“Defendant was and is aware of the ‘countless hours’ of work being performed by Cincinnati Ben-Gal cheerleaders at their direction and under their supervision,” the complaint said. “Despite this knowledge, defendant has maintained its wage and hour policies and practices.”

Bengals spokesman Jack Brennan said in a statement that the Ben-Gals squad “has long been a program run by former cheerleaders and has enjoyed broad support in the community and by members of the squad.”

Brenneman’s complaint comes several weeks after the Raiders were slapped with a similar wage and hour suit alleging the club withholds all pay from the Raiderettes cheer squad until after the end of the season, does not pay for all hours worked and forces the cheerleaders to pay many of their own business expenses.

According to Brenneman, the Bengals cheerleaders are only paid $90 for each home game performance and are not compensated for time spent at mandatory practices, charity functions, or Ben-Gal calendar photo shoots and promotional appearances.

As a condition of employment, the Bengals restrict cheerleaders’ ability to take other jobs, including prohibiting them from dancing or performing with another group, according to the complaint. Missing practices can result in a Ben-Gal being forced to sit out games without pay, Brenneman said.

During the 2013-2014 season, although there were 30 Ben-Gals on the cheer team, only 24 were selected to perform at each home game, the complaint said. Those not chosen to perform were still required to arrive at the stadium and participate in pregame activities and drills, then stay until halftime to visit with fans in luxury suites, but earned $45 instead of the full $90, according to the complaint.

Brenneman added that Ben-Gals have to spend their own money for transportation, specialty clothing and other expenses.

“Defendant’s failure to pay for or reimburse Ben-Gals for these required items further reduces their compensation below the minimum wage,” the complaint said.

The suit noted that the Seattle Seahawks pay their “Sea Gals” an hourly wage and any applicable overtime, and the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers pay their cheerleaders for rehearsals, games, appearances and dance clinics.

Brenneman is seeking to represent all Ben-Gals who have worked for the Bengals organization from Feb. 10, 2011, to the present. The suit, which alleges violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Ohio minimum wage law, seeks an injunction barring the Bengals from committing future violations, along with unpaid wages.

The case is Alexa Brenneman v. Cincinnati Bengals Inc., case number 1:14-cv-00136, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.