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Why are most NFL cheerleaders paid less than minimum wage? (Poll)

Pittsburgh Steelers v Oakland Raiders

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A member of the Raiderette cheerleader performs during their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 23, 2012 in Oakland, California. A Raiderette named Lacy T. is currently suing the Raiders for violating California labor laws.

Cheerleaders are synonymous with football games, whether its high school, college or the NFL. But the work of NFL cheerleaders, in particular, doesn't end on the field.

They're also expected to do charity work, make public appearances and stay in tip-top shape, usually at their own expense. In most cases, while also being paid less than minimum wage. That may all change if a Raiderette — of the Oakland Raiders —named Lacy T. has her way. She's currently suing the Raiders for violating California labor laws.

The suit claims that the Raiders failed to pay cheerleaders minimum wage for all hour worked, that they withhold pay until the end of the season, that they require cheerleaders to cover their own expenses, and that they deny them lunch breaks. In addition, the suit claims the team penalizes cheerleaders for minor infractions like forgetting pom poms or gaining weight. 

When she first started, Lacy was paid a lump sum of $1,250 at the conclusion of the season. However, the team increased her pay to $2,780 just a few days before she filed suit. In her contract were requirements for her to attend practice three times a week, photo shoots, fittings and 9-hour shifts at home games. 

Lacy, and a fellow Raiderette named Sarah G., had originally filed a federal lawsuit in the Alameda County Superior Court back in January 22. The U.S. Department of Labor subsequently began an investigation into the treatment of NFL cheerleaders.  In March, however, they closed the investigation, finding that cheerleading is seasonal  and exempt from federal minimum wage laws.  

"The Raiderettes constitute a seasonal operation, so they're not working year round," said Amanda Hess, who wrote about Lacy's story and the plight of the NFL cheerleader in her latest piece for ESPN Magazine. "They are not necessarily held to federal minimum wage standards."

In March, the Raiders filed a motion asking that the court allow Lacy and Sarah's case to be resolved in arbitration, as written in their Raiderette contract. However, it's unclear whether a California judge would allow this, due to its tenuous relationship with arbitration laws. 

"That's a very big legal question in California right now: What arbitration clauses are legal," said Hess. "I suspect that Lacy's attorney is going to argue that the Raiders' arbitration clause in inherently unfair, because the person who will be overseeing the arbitration is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who is of course paid by the Raiders and all of the other NFL teams."

There are some teams, however, that do pay their cheerleader at least minimum wage. 

"The teams are notoriously secretive about their cheerleading squads, but we do know that the Seattle Seahawks were able to pay their cheerleaders minimum wage for all of the hours that they practiced and worked," said Hess.

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