NFL Cheerleaders Petition to Keep Wage Fight Alive in Ninth Circuit

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Donnett Hickson,
Legal Staff Writer

In an effort to revive their wage conspiracy suit, a group of National Football League (NFL) cheerleaders appealed U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s dismissal of their suit as “futile” without allowing any further amendments to the ninth circuit on Wednesday July 26, 2017. The cheerleaders are alleging that the NFL and the teams with cheerleading squads illegally conspired to “suppress their wages.”

On January 31, 2017, lead plaintiff, Kelsey K, a former NFL cheerleader for the San Francisco 49ers, filed a formal complaint against all NFL teams with a cheerleading squad. In the complaint, Plaintiff alleged that the teams collaborated to keep cheerleaders’ wages low by outlawing the recruitment of cheerleaders from other squads and then choosing not to pick up cheerleaders from other teams after their contracts expired. The current salary for an NFL cheerleader is $1,500 per year. Kelsey K and fellow plaintiffs believe their worth is around $100,000 for work on and off the field as professional cheerleaders.

In Judge Alsup’s decision, he specifically addressed the class’s conspiracy allegations when it came to the “no-poaching agreement” by which teams and cheerleaders must abide. Where the class interpreted the agreement as teams not allowing the young women to transfer to another squad, Judge Alsup said that the agreement actually prohibits teams from restricting cheerleaders from moving to another squad once their contract expires. The class tried to explain to Judge Alsup that even though it is permissible, teams simply do not select cheerleaders from other organizations. Judge Alsup quickly dismissed this by highlighting a hypothetical surplus of local talent that eliminates a club’s need to recruit and questioned plaintiffs in saying, “Is it proof of a conspiracy? No, it is not, at least in the absence of well-pled facts showing a need for clubs to poach in the first place.”

In Judge Alsup’s eyes, “The problem here remains, however, that Plaintiff’s factual allegations, taken as a whole, ‘barely show minimal parallel conduct’ and fail to ‘nudge the overall conspiracy across the line from conceivable to plausible.’”

The class will continue to fight his decision in hopes that they will eventually receive a salary proportionate to the level of commitment, skill and hours dedicated to being NFL cheerleaders.

The case is Kelsey K. v. NFL Enterprises LLC et al., case number 3:17-cv-00496, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

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