Former Milwaukee Bucks cheerleader Lauren Herington is suing the Milwaukee Bucks over allegations that the NBA team committed wage theft against her during the 2013-2014 season. The dancer asserts that the NBA’s flat-rate payment system for dancers resulted in her being paid well below minimum wage, citing instances in which she was paid as little as $3 an hour. “They told us it was a full-time commitment with part-time pay,” Ms. Herington said. “If we had an issue, we’d be shown the door.”
According to Ms. Herington, she along with 40 other dancers, spent long days practicing, performing and engaging in mandatory exercise and beauty regimens. Regardless of the length of time or the nature of her work, she was paid in flat fees: $65 for games, $30 for practices, and $50 for special appearances. Her lawyers say that on average, this flat-rate system translated to being paid an average wage of $5 an hour; the federal minimum wage is $7.35. According to her legal team, on busier weeks, she was paid as little as $3 an hour.
Ms. Herington’s lawsuit also cites that she was required to cover additional expenses without any financial help from the Bucks team, including special cleaning of her uniform, tanning sessions, and routine manicures and hair appointments. Currently, her case is being considered in federal court. Since suing, another plaintiff has joined Ms. Herrington and five others were considering doing the same, according to her legal team.
As for the Milwaukee Bucks, the team released a statement to the public, asserting that they plan on fighting the lawsuit in court. Ms. Herington’s lawsuit is the first of its kind against the NBA franchise, trailing similar lawsuits alleging unfair pay against the NFL last year. In the wake of these cases, state lawmakers have taken up the cause of professional cheerleaders, crafting wage protection for these industry professionals, many of whom are classified as independent contractors instead of employees to protect teams from liability. Since contractors are considered business proprietors who provide independent services not under the direction of others, they do not receive the same treatment as employees.
On October 6, three assemblywomen called upon NBA commissioner Adam Silver to disclose the terms and conditions of cheerleader contracts for all 30 teams in the league. “We want a clear understanding of employment status and pay scales,” New York Assemblywoman Nily Rozic stated. She will be joined by California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who drafted a bill that was signed into law last July by Gov. Jerry Brown. The bill designates professional cheerleaders as sports team employees, entitling them to paid sick leave, family leave and workers’ compensation. Commissioner Silver has yet to respond.