cheerleadersThe NFL is a multi-billion dollar bu$ine$$.

Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos. On top of his $15 million salary, he earned a $2 million bonus. Cam Newton lost the Super Bowl, but don’t feel sorry for him; he signed a 5-year $103.8 million contract.  For their Super Bowl appearances, every player on the winning Broncos received a $102,000 bonus, and every player on the losing Carolina Panthers received a $51,000 bonus. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may receive compensation and benefits valued in excess of $40 million per year (reports show that he earned more than $44 million in 2012).

How much does an NFL cheerleader earn? Below the minimum wage, if allegations asserted by many NFL cheerleaders are accurate.

While many NFL teams pay cheerleaders between $90 and $150 per game, cheerleaders have filed suit over the last few years alleging they do not receive compensation for practices, mandatory meetings, and community and promotional appearances. In September 2014, the Raiderettes received a $1.25 million settlement from the Raiders after many months of litigation. Another NFL team reportedly settled for $825,000. Both teams now pay their cheerleaders minimum wage.

Representatives of the Broncos and Panthers reportedly did not respond to requests for comment on what their cheerleaders were paid for their Super Bowl appearances.

So what lessons can be learned from the NFL cheerleader litigation?

  • As many NFL teams have learned through the cheerleader litigation, the terms “independent contractor” and “employee” are not interchangeable. You can’t avoid your minimum wage or overtime obligations by slapping an “independent contractor” label on a worker who should be classified as an “employee.” While a variety of tests are used to determine whether a worker is an “employee” or “independent contractor,” the tests generally focus on the amount of control exerted (or that may be exerted) over the worker by the purported employer. The greater the control, the greater the likelihood that an employer/employee relationship exists.
  • Cheerleading presumably is fun. In fact, many would (and have) considered professional cheerleading volunteer work (I would consider “volunteering” as an NFL cheerleader in exchange for a place on the sideline during the Super Bowl). In the private sector, however, volunteer (unpaid) work generally is not permitted.
  • Work-related meetings and gatherings outside of normal working hours (or, in the case of cheerleaders, events held on non-gamedays) may be considered compensable time. For example, non-exempt employees must be paid for mandatory training sessions or mandatory business meetings held on evenings or weekends.

Keep in mind that minimum wage and overtime rules vary state-by-state, so consult with your employment attorney for any state-specific inquiries.

Lastly, and apropos of nothing, I would like to congratulate Tom Brady and Bill Belichick of “my” New England Patriots. Both received write-in votes in the New Hampshire presidential primary – 4 for Brady (2 Democratic, 2 Republican) and 1 for Belichick (Democratic). Go Pats!