BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Five former Buffalo Jills cheerleaders filed a lawsuit against the Buffalo Bills Tuesday in New York State Supreme Court, claiming they were exploited by the team, which they say failed to pay them in accordance with the state’s minimum wage laws.
Stejon Productions Corporation, current manager of the Jills, and Citadel Communications Company, the former manager of the Jills, are named as defendants in the complaint.
“We are aware of this lawsuit and it is our organizational policy not to comment on pending litigation.” – Buffalo Bills
The complaint alleges some Jills cheerleaders performed hundreds of hours of labor per year and were paid well below the mandatory minimum wage. It also says they were forced to endure degrading treatment at the annual Jills golf tournament and the swimsuit calendar release party.
“We had always dreamed since we were little girls of becoming Buffalo Jills cheerleaders and unfortunately it was anything but a good experience,” said former Jills cheerleader Alyssa U. “[She made us do] everything from standing in front of us with a clipboard and having us do a jiggle test to see what parts of our body were jiggling and if that was something she saw, then you weren’t performing at all.”
She and four others claim other degrading behavior included being forced to wear a bikini and then go into a dunk tank, being auctioned off like prizes, and “the Jills were forced to sit on participants’ laps because there was not enough seats in the golf carts.”
The five former Jills say they had to follow a strict set of rules, but because they say they were unlawfully counted as independent contractors rather than employees, they did not get paid an hourly wage.
Maria P. said, “The team told us how to walk, talk, dress, speak and behave at work and on our own time.”
“We were the laughing stock of NFL cheerleaders. We deserve to be compensated just like everyone else,” Alyssa U. said.
Both Maria P. and Alyssa U. were cheerleaders during the 2012 to 2013 season. Their lawyer, Frank Dolce, was by their side Tuesday as the women explained why they chose to take action.
“Going into it she made it pretty clear that we were not going to be paid and that this was an honor and a great hobby and all that and we didn’t realize until later that that was illegal,” Alyssa U. said.
Dolce added, “Certainly they were entitled to compensation. So it is about money, but far more importantly it’s about the dignity of how you treat a worker in this state and we have set minimum standards that need to be followed.”
The complaint explains that the Buffalo Bills have leased out the Jills since 1986, however they still play a strong role in managing and controlling the Jills’ activities.
It alleges that game performances, practices, rehearsals and appearances equaled “840 hours of unpaid work per woman, per year.” It also says the women each paid more than $600 for their uniforms and covered their own travel expenses, including hotel stays, during appearances for the team. They also paid for their own hairstyles, nails tights, lipstick, makeup, gas and more that were required by the Bills and appearances for the team.
Maria P. said, “We want the community and all the Bills fans out there to see what we went through, to see what we did off the field. They are there on Sundays cheering on the Bills like we were but they don’t see behind the scenes.”
Jaclyn S., Melissa M. and Gina B. are also plaintiffs in the suit.
The Buffalo Bills released the following statement regarding the lawsuit: “We are aware of this lawsuit and it is our organizational policy not to comment on pending litigation.”