DALLAS -- NFL cheerleaders are more than just sideline decoration. They often enjoy the same glamour and recognition as the players on the teams they root for.
“I would argue that, at one point in time, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were bigger than the Dallas Cowboys,” said Kimberly Priest Johnson.
But when she donned the iconic uniform, their paychecks were considerably smaller. She was paid just $25 a game. Priest Johnson spent a year cheering for the Cowboys and four with the Mavericks before becoming an attorney.
She's defended several class action lawsuits involving the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), much like the one filed by the Buffalo Jills Cheerleading Squad.
“It could have far reaching effects across the NFL and across the NBA,” Priest Johnson said.
The Buffalo cheerleaders argue they are employees who should be paid at least minimum wage. The companies that manage the squad have said they're not employees. They maintain the cheerleaders are independent contractors and not covered by FLSA.
Priest Johnson said legally, they fit the definition of employee, because the teams control more than just the hours they spend practicing, performing, and making appearances.
“When you are a professional cheerleader,” Priest Johnson said, “they control every single thing about you. They control your look. They control what you can post on social media.”
The bad publicity that comes with litigation is nothing to cheer about.
“I expect that the cheerleading organizations will change to paying their cheerleaders at least the minimum wage,” Priest Johnson said.
It's a move that may prove to be less costly for the multi-billion dollar sports industry than more lawsuits.