By Jon Campbell
ALBANY - A new bill would require professional sports teams to treat their cheerleaders as employees and pay them minimum wage, with the proposal inspired by a lawsuit filed by five former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders.
The proposal from Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, D-Queens, would require New York teams to extend all the "rights, benefits and protections" of team employees to cheerleaders, who often work on a contract basis.
Ex-members of the Buffalo Jills, the football team's cheerleading squad, filed a lawsuit against the Bills last year accusing the team and its contractors of paying less than minimum wage and requiring the cheerleaders to work various public appearances for free.
The suit, which is pending in state Supreme Court, alleges some Jills -- who were considered to be independent contractors -- were subjected to sexual harassment at events and that members of the squad were provided with detailed instructions on proper hygiene and how to behave in public.
"As we continue the fight for equal pay across the state, we cannot overlook any worker entitled to fair pay under the law," Rozic said in a statement. "Sports teams and owners should not continue to capitalize without providing the most basic workplace protections."
If passed, the provisions of the Cheerleaders' Fair Pay Act would take effect immediately and apply to all professional sports teams in New York. Anyone who "performs acrobatics, dance or gymnastic exercises in promotion of a professional sports franchise" would be considered a cheerleader and subject to employee protections.
At least five groups of cheerleaders have filed lawsuits against their National Football League teams in recent years, including the Bills and the New York Jets. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders have both settled claims.
The Buffalo Jills have been on hiatus since the lawsuit was filed and didn't appear at any Bills games last year.
The bill was introduced late last week, and it comes with little time left in the state's scheduled legislative session.
Lawmakers are scheduled to be in Albany four days next week and three the following week before returning to their districts June 17 for the rest of the year.
Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, is expected to introduce the bill in the state Senate, according to Rozic's office.