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Bucs settle lawsuit over cheerleaders' pay

Published Mar. 7, 2015

TAMPA — For Manouchcar Pierre-Val, going up against an NFL team was not so much about the money.

The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader slapped the team with an unfair labor lawsuit last year to highlight how the women put in many more hours than they were paid for.

"If you work for someone, you deserve to be compensated for the work," Pierre-Val said Friday evening.

Now Pierre-Val and as many as 93 other cheerleaders will be compensated. The Buccaneers have agreed to pay up to $825,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit.

The settlement, signed by Bucs chief operating officer Brian Ford on Feb. 26 and filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Tampa, must still be approved by a judge. The Bucs disputed the claim and continues to deny the team owed the women back pay, but decided to settle after "many rounds of negotiations," according to court documents. A team spokesman declined to comment.

Vierre-Pal cheered for the Bucs during the 2012-2013 season. During that time, she said, she was paid $100 per game, but worked many more unpaid hours running cheerleading clinics, visiting charity events, posing for swimsuit calendars and practicing.

Two other women joined the suit, and a total of 94 have been identified as class members. The award was calculated to pay each woman about $5,254 per season, an estimated average of what they would have earned if paid minimum wage, said Kim De Arcangelis, an attorney for Morgan and Morgan.

After attorney fees and costs are deducted, each woman who comes forward to claim her award will receive about $3,445 for up to five seasons due to the statute of limitations, said De Arcangelis, whose firm will receive about $264,000, a 32 percent cut. Any money left unclaimed will revert to the Bucs.

De Arcangelis said Pierre-Val mustered the courage to file her suit after seeing cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders file the first suit of its kind. Cheerleaders from at least three other teams — the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and the New York Jets — have filed similar wage theft suits. The Raiders settled with two former Raiderettes last year for $1.25 million, and the team now pays its cheerleaders $9 an hour, plus overtime.

Pierre-Val's lawsuit is the fifth filed against an NFL team and the second to be settled, De Arcangelis said.

While the Bucs dispute the claim, since May 2014 they have paid their cheerleaders at least minimum wage. The exact rate wasn't available Friday.

The settlement is a victory, De Arcangelis said.

"We hope this is part of a movement for all teams who pay their cheerleaders this way to pay them a livable wage for the hours they've worked."

Pierre-Val, 26, said she was surprised by how much backlash she got "from the girls on the team and the community in general." She is now a nurse-practitioner in Tampa.

"I'm glad that I stuck to my guns and now the girls including myself will be compensated for at least some of the time given to the Bucs organization," she said.

Times staff writer Greg Auman and news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which used information from the Los Angeles Times. Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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