BUFFALO, NY - Five former Buffalo Jills Cheerleaders have filed a lawsuit against the NFL Buffalo Bills in New York State Supreme court.
According to a press release issued by attorneys from Dolce Panepinto, who are representing the plaintiffs, the team "exploited the women by failing to pay them in accordance with New York State minimum wage laws."
The suit alleges the team and others named as defendants failed to pay the Jills the mandatory minimum wage for their "extensive work on game day and at various community events", and claims that in some cases, members of the Jills performed hundreds of hours of work each year, for which they were paid well below the state's mandatory minimum wage.
Also named as defendants in the suit are Stejon Productions Corporation, the firm which currently manages the Jills, and Citadel Communications Company (which owns Buffalo radio station 97 Rock) which formerly managed the cheer leading squad.
The Buffalo Jills lawsuit comes on the heels of similar lawsuits filed by the Oakland raiders and Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders against their respective teams.
FORMER JILL: "It Was A Nightmare."
One plaintiff describes making the team the "dream of a lifetime", but describes the reality as "a nightmare". The lawsuit claims that as part of their employment with the defendants, members of the Jills were "forced to endure degrading treatment as part of their mandatory participation in events, such as the annual Jills Golf Tournament and the annual Swimsuit Calendar Release Party.
Though the Bills have, for almost 30 years, placed the management and operation the team is named as a defendant according to plaintiff's attorney Frank Dolce, because it plays strong role in managing and controlling the activities of the squad, whose members have to live by team policies.
"They're certainly the ones in control. They call the shots," Dolce told WGRZ-TV.
Dolce also rejects the notion that members of the Jills are "independent contractors" in terms of their employment, largely because they are required to conduct themselves in accordance with certain team policies even when they are not working.
"If you are under the control of an entity, we can call them your employer and you're an employee," said Dolce. "We don't want any hokey games as trying top portray somebody as an independent contractor to sidestep and avoid minimum standards that we have in our state."
An ex-Jill identified only as Maria P. in the lawsuit, says if she were to advise a young girl who had aspirations of being a member of the Buffalo Jills, she would dissuade them.
"Under the current conditions, I would tell her not to do it," she said.\
In response to an inquiry from Channel 2 News, The Bills issued the following statement:
"We are aware of this lawsuit and it is our organizational policy not to comment on pending litigation."
The principle of the current firm operating and managing the Jills, Stephanie Mateczun of SteJon Productions, also declined comment for this story.