The Buffalo Bills cannot win this offseason. First, the franchise’s only owner, Ralph Wilson, passes away and then their most iconic player, Jim Kelly, announces a cancer fight. Now five cheerleaders have filed a lawsuit with numerous accusations, including sexual harassment, against the team.
The Bills face a season without the Jills. The cheerleading squad has ceased operations because of a lawsuit filed against the team by five of its former members. Thirty-five women recently selected as cheerleaders may be cheering from their living rooms instead of the sidelines this season.
Stejon Productions Corp., the company that manages the Buffalo Jills, suspended all activities until the lawsuit is settled. President Stephanie Mateczun said she will release a statement “when the time is right.” Her company, along with the Bills and Citadel Communications, are named in the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the companies failed to pay the women “for all hours they worked each season.” The women also allege the companies did not pay business expenses and “took unlawful deductions and kick-backs from the Jills wages” among other violations of the Wage Theft Prevention Act. The lawsuit states the Bills violated the New York State Minimum Wage Act as well.
While the Buffalo Bills generate $256 million in annual revenue, the five Buffalo Jills each made made at most $1,800 and as little as $105 during a single season over the past four years, according to the suit.
The lawsuit says the women worked 840 unpaid hours.
Plus, the women claim the Bills forced them to be independent contractors as a way to avoid granting them employee rights. Even though the women were supposed to be independent contractors, the company treated them as regular employees.
The lawsuit says “the Jills did not receive any monetary compensation for appearnces at the Buffalo Bills football games. Typically, Jills worked eight (8) hours on a game day.” They did not receive any payment for the eight hours of practice every week. The handbook also said the ladies must make 20-35 appearances at different events and the women said there was no payment for the majority of the events.
The worst part, though, is the section that detailed appearances work that “was demeaning and degrading treatment.” At the annual Jills Golf Tournament, the cheerleaders were auctioned off and forced to ride on golf carts with the winners. However, the women allege they received “degrading sexual comments and inappropriate touching.” All Jills are required to attend the calendar release party and wear nothing but a bathing suit. There is no security or stage so the women are “forced to walk in uncomfortably close proximity to the club patrons” and “many of the participating Jills were groped or touched inappropriately by audience members during the performance.”
Then there are the rules the Jills must abide in their uniforms and personal lives. A few of these include wearing only a French manicure or natural polish. The director has to approve all changes in hair, whether it is color or style. They also told the women how to wash their privates and “how often to change tampons.”
Despite the allegations, the Buffalo Jills Alumni Association do not approve of the lawsuit and call it “petty, self-serving and a mischaracterization of the reality of cheerleading.”
“Since the inception of the Buffalo Jills in 1967, there’s been over 600 Buffalo Jills, so please don’t judge the Jills or the Jills alumni on the basis of a complaint by five malcontents. They do not define the experience,” said Chris Polito, chairwoman of the alumni group’s board of directors.
“The former Jills have an alumni association with members who work with local charities and who support one another and enjoy the sisterhood that the Jills encourage,” Polito said. “This lawsuit is so petty and self-serving it would be laughable if it did not influence Buffalo’s attitude toward the Jills.
“Cheerleaders across the country have had issues and concerns about their sponsorships,” she added. “I’m frustrated because I feel whenever a brouhaha happens, the focus is diverted away from the issues and toward the cheerleaders.”
The Bills did not comment on the lawsuit.