A cheerleader has filed a lawsuit against the Bengals organization, claiming she was underpaid for more than "300 hours" of work she performed for the team last season.
Alexa Brenneman, the cheerleader who filed the complaint, says she was paid $855 to work for the team between May 2013 and January 2014. She believes she and her approximately 30 teammates last season were illegally underpaid for their “300 hours” of work under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Ohio Minimum Fair Wage Standards Act, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday.
“The Ben-Gals are required to attend at least 6-8 hours of mandatory practices every week from late May through December, are required to appear at no fewer than 10 ‘charity’ functions a season, and most pose for and promote a Ben-gals Calendar.
“When all of the mandatory practice time, public appearance time, time spent at Paul Brown Stadium on game days, and time posing for and promoting the Ben-Gals calendar are added together, the Ben-Gals spend well over 300 hours a year ‘working for the Bengals organization.’”
By Brenneman’s math, that means she was paid a rate of $2.85 per hour, $5 less than Ohio’s minimum wage rate ($7.85).
Brenneman, who says she was paid no more than $90 per game last season, said she is filing the class action complaint on behalf of "All persons who were employed by (the Bengals) as a Cincinnati (Ben-Gal) cheerleader at any time from February 10, 2011 through the present." That breaks down to about 50 people.
Part of the her argument stems from the team's designation as the cheerleaders as employees, according to the lawsuit. The complaint, filed by the law firm Goldenberg Schenider, LPA, references the Bengals' team website as evidence in support of their case.
“These ladies are young professionals who are not only involved in their own careers, but they are involved in many hours per week working for the Bengals,” the website reads.
The argument also points to the NFL’s designated revenue-sharing program.
“(The Bengals are) a member of the National Football League, an organization that includes a revenue-sharing program that spreads television royalties across the league.
“However, the money (the Bengals earn) from Ben-Gal cheerleader calendar sales and Ben-Gal cheerleader promotional appearances remains with (the Bengals) and is not shared with the rest of the league."
A 2003 Forbes Magazine article estimated that the extra revenue generated by a cheerleader squad amounts to just over “$1 million a season.”
The complaint also contends all extra practice times and “mandatory” appearances should be considered “work time” because attendance was not voluntary.
In the lawsuit, the attorneys use the Seattle Seahawks as an example of an organization that pays their cheerleaders "any hourly wage and any applicable overtime required by law, for all hours worked." The NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers also compensate their cheerleaders for more than just games, according to the suit.
Officials with the Bengals organization were quick to dismiss the allegations. While quick to compliment the team for the work it does in the community, they referred to Brenneman's suit as a "copycat move."
“The Ben-Gals cheerleading program has long been a program run by former cheerleaders and has enjoyed broad support in the community and by members of the squad. Yesterday’s lawsuit appears to be a copycat lawsuit that mimics the one filed last month in California against a different NFL club."
The lawsuit in question was filed by the Raiders’ cheerleaders , who are also suing over what they consider an unlawful payment structure. The Raiderettes say they were paid what amounts to $5 per hour.
Bengals officials plan to address the litigation in "due course," according to the statement.
WCPO reached out to the law firm representing Brenneman but they refused to provide further comment on the matter.