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Employment Blog

Pom-poms and Circumstances: Professional Baseball Players' and Cheerleaders' March to the Courthouse - Provide Good Wage and Hour Reminder

Authored by Ruder Ware Attorneys
Posted on February 24, 2014
Filed under Employment

Recently, the professional sports world has experienced a slew of wage and hour lawsuits, through which the stars on and off the field (well, maybe not off the field completely, but definitely on the sidelines) have claimed their larger-than-life employers failed to pay them the applicable minimum wages and overtime, as required under federal and state law. Just this month, several former minor-league baseball players filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging the players minor-league salaries, when spread over the many hours these guys worked (e.g., time spent conditioning, strength training, practice and playing in official games), was not enough to equal minimum wage, and that the players did not receive overtime for overtime hours worked. For those baseball nerds (I'm in this group too as I represent several "boys of summer" so I use the term "nerd" affectionately) or HR nerds (again, I'm firmly in this camp) who are interested, the case is Senne v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, Case No. 3:14-CV-608 (N.D. Cal., Feb. 7, 2014). This is definitely a case worth watching.

Also, within the last month, several cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders ("Raiderettes") and Cincinnati Bengals ("Ben Gals") filed separate lawsuits through which these ambassadors of cheer have emphatically cried "Boooooooooo!" More specifically, these professional entertainers allege the flat fees they received as compensation for their performances do not, when spread over the many hours worked, equal minimum wage (as reported, some of the cheerleaders claim to have earned as little as $2.85 per hour in exchange for their labor).

These lawsuits, while particularly interesting because they form part of the "sports worship" culture in which we all live, also serve as a great reminder to all employers - not just those with a stadium. Employers should look past the glitz and glamour of these lawsuits and appreciate the underlying cautionary lessons these cases provide. These lessons include: (1) a fancy title and a salary do not necessarily mean that an employee is exempted from receiving overtime compensation (in most states, for all hours worked over 40 in a work week) in fact, generally, there are very specific duties that an employee must also perform to be exempt from overtime; and (2) a lump-sum payment for all hours worked (think summer interns where this issue is a big concern and ripe for litigation) is tricky, and requires planning at the front end, to ensure that the applicable hourly rate is observed (roughly, total compensation total hours worked) is at least the applicable minimum wage. Employers need to be on their game and are encouraged to routinely reexamine "exempt" classifications and compensation plans for summer help. In the wage and hour world, there is no such thing as a "three strikes" rule.