SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - An antitrust class action accuses the NFL and 26 of its 32 teams of conspiring to suppress wages for cheerleaders in the multibillion-dollar sports enterprise, forcing them to work off the clock and prohibiting them from seeking work in other sports.
Former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader Jane Doe claims in the federal class action that NFL and 26 of its 32 teams struck anticompetitive deals designed to underpay their "female athletes."
"The conspiracy began with an agreement between senior executives of defendant NFL member teams to eliminate competition for female athletes with the intent and effect of suppressing the compensation and mobility of female athletes," the 25-page complaint states.
Doe says the teams agreed to not to recruit each other's female athletes; to pay all cheerleaders a low, flat rate for each game; not to pay them at all for time spent rehearsing or other mandatory activities, such as community outreach; to bar them from working in other professional sports; and to prohibit them from discussing their pay with each other, to mask "the illegal nature of their employment and compensation."
Several NFL teams have settled wage-and-hour lawsuits from cheerleaders in recent years.
In 2014, Oakland Raiders cheerleaders settled their lawsuit for $1.25 million.
The Cincinnati Bengals settled a similar lawsuit for $250,000 in 2015, and the New York Jets settled with cheerleaders for $324,000 in 2016.
California in 2015 passed a law requiring professional sports teams to pay cheerleaders minimum wage, overtime and provide sick leave, workers' compensation and other employment benefits.
Before the rash of labor suits raised most cheerleaders' pay to at least minimum wage, Doe says, dancers were paid as little as $90 to $125 per game with no compensation for other required activities.
"Perhaps even more insultingly, defendant NFL member teams required female athletes auditioning for the team to pay approximately $25 per woman just to try out," Doe says in her complaint.
In addition to game performances, cheerleaders work approximately 100 three-hour rehearsals, three times a week from about May until December, according to the complaint.
Doe estimates the fair market value for their work should be $100,000 per year. That figure is based on minimum rates for live shows and performances prescribed by the Dancers Alliance, a union for professional dancers and choreographers.
Doe also complains that NFL teams require cheerleaders surrender the right to use their likenesses in promotional and retail materials. This allows the NFL and its teams to sell calendars and other products featuring female athletes, which bring in about $1 million per team each year, according to Forbes.
Doe says the NFL teams use fear and intimidation to further their conspiracy to suppress dancers' wages.
"Female athletes were told by defendant NFL member team agents they were lucky to be chosen, should be grateful and could be quickly replaced if they failed to perform in any way," Doe says in the complaint.
She accuses the NFL and 26 teams of violating federal and California antitrust laws.
Doe seeks class certification, damages for suppressed earnings and recovery of litigation costs.
She is represented by Drexel Bradshaw in San Francisco.
In addition to the National Football League and NFL enterprises, the defendants are the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins.
NFL spokesman Robert Roberts did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.