The Buffalo Jills NFL cheerleaders’ class action lawsuit against Buffalo Bills, Inc. (the “Bills”), Citadel Communications Company, Ltd (“Citadel”) and Stephanie Mateczun, president of Stejon Productions Corp. (“Stejon”) will move forward after an Erie County judge dismissed in their entirety two motions to dismiss by the Bills and Citadel.
The action was filed as a class action on April 22, 2014 and alleges that the Jills’ employers failed to pay them minimum wage and misclassified them as independent contractors. Defendant Bills filed a motion to be dismissed from the action, arguing that it was not the Jills’ employer because it contracted with separate companies that managed the Jills. Moreover, Citadel which managed the Jills until 2012 claimed that the Jills were not entitled to minimum wage because they were not employees and they signed agreements stating that they were independent contractors.
Plaintiff responded by arguing that the Jills were employees rather than independent contractors and that the Bills exerted control over the Jills. Moreover, Plaintiff noted that the agreement between the Bills and Citadel, approved and signed by NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, incorporated a mandatory waiver, release and independent contractor agreement, which specifically provided that the Jills would not be paid for Buffalo Bills home games.
On July 31, 2014, the Honorable Judge Timothy J. Drury, New York State Supreme Court Judge issued a decision denying both of the motions in their entirety. In its decision the Court noted that,
The minute control that Citadel and Stejon exercised over the work of the cheerleaders supports the conclusion that they were not independent contractors but employees. The Bills insisted that Citadel and Stejon obtain the agreement from each of the cheerleaders that they were independent contractors and the Bills directed that the agreements be returned promptly to them. These facts are further indication of the control the Bill exercised over the Jills cheerleaders despite the fact that they were in the nominal employment of the subcontractors.
According to Mateczun, the Bills had agreed to supplement the wages of the Jills for the 2014 season, but reneged on that agreement after the lawsuit was filed. Mateczun claims that she was forced to shut down the operations of the Jills as a result.
The lawyers on the case responded enthusiastically to the decision. Christopher Marlborough, of the Marlborough Law Firm, P.C. said, “We are pleased that Judge Drury ruled in our favor and we are looking forward to litigating this case. We would be even more pleased if the defendants would end the cheerleader lockout and resume operations of the Jills while the case is pending. The cheerleaders and the fans deserve better.”
Shane Rowley, of Levi & Korsinsky LLP noted, “We were shocked when we saw that Roger Goodell himself approved the agreement which required that the Jills would not be paid for working at the Bills home games. We intend to fully explore the NFL’s involvement in this scheme.”
Andrea L. Sammarco of The Sammarco Law Firm, LLP, noted “Buffalo was the home of the historic NFL Cheerleaders’ Association, the first and only labor union formed to address unfair workplace practices for cheerleaders. It is only fitting that the Jills should rise once again to take a stand.”
On August, 23, 2014, the Bills face their first pre-season home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For the first time in 47 years the Buffalo Jills will not be cheering at the game because their employers won’t pay them minimum wage of $8.00 per hour.
A copy of Judge Drurys's decision and the Agreement approved by Roger Goodell are attached below.