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Cheerleaders claim unpaid overtime and unfair compensation

In terms of compensation, some famed positions of employment have traditionally offered more prestige and honor than money. For example, a former member of the New York Jets' cheerleading squad, the "Flight Crew," has filed a lawsuit stating that the team underpays cheerleaders.

The lawsuit, which was recently filed in New Jersey, is similar to cases brought by former or current cheerleaders against other teams in the National Football League. In particular, the complaints raise questions about the employee classification of cheerleaders. Are they employees or independent contractors?

According to reports, cheerleaders for the Jets receive payments for games and special events. The amounts paid are $100 per special event and $150 per game. Squad members are not paid for rehearsal or travel time, says the suit. They are also not reimbursed for required cosmetic, hair, uniform and travel expenses.

The suit says payment breaks down to $3.77 an hour. When expenses are considered, the pay can be as low as $1.50 per hour.

One labor lawyer pointed out that, in the past, payment was not a top priority for cheerleaders. She said the honor of being on the squad was the primary reward, and payment was a secondary consideration. Based on the number of suits being filed against sports teams, that is no longer the case.

Determining whether a position falls under employee-protected classes or can be treated as a contract -- or freelance -- position can be a complicated matter. Even so, any worker who feels that an employer is mistreating or underpaying staff has a right to seek redress through legal channels.

Source: Bloomberg, "New York Jets Accused in Suit of Underpaying Cheerleaders," Chris Dolmetsch and Eben Novy-Williams, May 7, 2014

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