Oakland Raiders dodge federal investigation and move to send Raiderettes’ Wage Claim to NFL Commissioner for decision

The Oakland Raiders brought a motion in Alameda County Superior Court to send a class action lawsuit brought by members of the football team’s cheerleading squad, the Raiderettes, off to “impartial” arbitration before the National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Goodell’s nearly $30 million salary is paid by the NFL’s owners, including the owners of the Oakland Raiders.

The lawsuit accuses the Oakland Raiders of violating California minimum wage law and various other labor laws.  According to the suit, the Raiders pay each cheerleader $125 for each of the 10 regular and pre-season home games, for a total of $1250 in a season.  This amount would be adequate if the Raiderettes’ only duties were on game days, but by the time they attend rehearsals, 10 charity events per season, and the team’s annual swimsuit calendar photography session, their wages drop below $5 per hour.

The picture looked bright for the Raiderettes a month ago when the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced it was investigating the Raiders.  But investigators soon ran into one of the 76-year-old Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)’s notable holes in coverage.   The DOL concluded that the Raiders qualified for an exemption from federal minimum wage and overtime requirements.  In this case, coverage was denied because of the law’s exemption for seasonal amusement or recreational establishments, organized camps, or religious or non-profit educational conference centers.  What sounds like an exemption for low-budget summer festivals, summer camps, and conference centers has become an excuse from federal coverage where the creators of the law likely could not have intended it to extend. 

In addition to claiming that the Raiders failed to pay minimum wage, the Raiderettes’ suit charges that the Raiders do not pay all overtime pay earned, fail to reimburse Raiderettes for travel expenses, fail to provide them with meal and rest breaks, and take unlawful deductions from their wages in violation of California law.

But none of these issues will be aired in court if the Raiders are successful with their petition to send the case to arbitration. 

The Raider’s petition for arbitration in Lacy T. v. The Oakland Raiders asserts that the employment contract of the Raiderettes requires them to submit all claims against the team for final and binding arbitration by the Commissioner.  No class action arbitration is purportedly available under the contracts so each Raiderette must submit a separate claim, thereby driving the cost of pursuing claims up. 

The Raiderette plaintiffs will likely challenge the enforceability of the Raiders’ arbitration provision on grounds that appointment of Commissioner Goodell as the sole arbitrator renders the entire agreement to arbitrate unconscionable.  A hearing on the petition is scheduled for April 30.

By Ted Franklin | April 9, 2014

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