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Former Bucs cheerleader hits team with claim for unpaid wages

TAMPA — A former cheerleader for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers filed suit against the football team Monday, bringing to five the number of NFL franchises that have been hit with unfair labor claims this year.

Manouchcar Pierre-Val alleges that she is owed at least minimum wage for more than 500 hours she worked for the team.

"These women were required to attend multiple practices per week, be at the stadium all day on game days, and attend at least 40 hours of events for nonprofits throughout the season," said Kimberly D. Woods, the attorney for Morgan & Morgan, P.A. who filed the nine-page suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Since January, cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders and New York Jets have filed similar "wage theft" suits.

The former cheerleaders for those teams also revealed details about their jobs, such as "jiggle tests" to see if they had put on weight.

Pierre-Val, 25, is a registered nurse from Orlando who cheered for the Bucs during the 2012-2013 season. During that time, her attorney said, she was paid $100 per game but worked many more unpaid hours leading cheerleading clinics, visiting charity events, posing for swimsuit calendars and practicing.

"If you do the math," Woods said, "you see she earned less than $2 per hour — while the minimum wage in Florida was $7.67."

Pierre-Val, who did not try out for the squad this year, is the only Bucs' cheerleader named. But Woods said she has talked to other former cheerleaders who are considering signing onto the collective action complaint.

During the past three years, she said, the squad of 34 women should have been paid more than $500,000. For Pierre-Val, the amount would be approximately $3,000, accounting for the amount she was already paid.

The Buccaneers refused to comment on the suit Monday.

The suit quotes the team website: "As a Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleader, the ladies are consistently busy rehearsing, performing and volunteering for community events and appearances. The squad makes approximately 300 community appearances every year for both non-profit organizations and corporate events."

Some optional corporate appearances are paid. But most charity events require that cheerleaders act as ambassadors free of charge.

During the year that Pierre-Val cheered, the Bucs' annual gross revenue, the suit said, "was in excess of $500,000 per annum."

"You have a huge empire like that, and you can't pay 34 women minimum wage?" said Woods.

In suits filed against other NFL teams, cheerleaders complained about men at corporate events groping them on golf courses and at casinos, about rules governing how much bread they can eat and how often they have to change their tampons.

Buccaneers' cheerleaders "definitely had to comply with strict rules — no cursing, no photos of them drinking, how they had to maintain their hair," said Woods. But those weren't part of Pierre-Val's complaint. "Her suit is strictly about monetary compensation," Woods said.

Cheerleaders know what their compensation will be when they join the squad, the lawyer acknowledged.

But, she said, "You can't waive your rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Even if someone says they'll work for free, the law is still the law. You've got to pay employees at least minimum wage."

Pierre-Val was not available for comment Monday. But according to the Bucs' website, she is a registered nurse who works with diabetic patients and frequently does 12-hour overnight shifts. She became a "professional" cheerleader, her video biography says, "because it allows me to be able to give back. Since my job is so stressful, this is a place I can let go and have a great time, just not be so serious all the time."

The Buccaneers have 21 days to respond to the suit, Woods said. By then, she hopes, other women will have signed on to collect their back wages too.

"I don't know why it's taken 30 years for them to come forward about this," she said. "But I'm sure all the girls have felt for a long time like they should be getting more money."

Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writers Rick Stroud and Joe Smith contributed to this report. Lane DeGregory can be reached at degregory@tampabay.com and (727)893-8825.

Former Bucs cheerleader hits team with claim for unpaid wages 05/19/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 12:36pm]
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