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Former Ben-Gals cheerleader sues team for wage violations

Former Ben-Gals cheerleader and Springboro native Alexa Brenneman was mandated not to wear panties under her uniform and was allowed just a three-pound weight leniency before she faced sanctions. But the work rule that caused her to file a federal lawsuit against the Cincinnati Bengals was about wages.

Brenneman alleged in a class action suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio that she was effectively paid just $2.85 per hour — a violation of federal minimum wage laws — during her more than 300 hours working for the Cincinnati Bengals from May 2013 to January 2014.

Brenneman, 24, a 2008 graduate of Springboro High School, alleges that though the cheerleaders are paid $90 per home game, their compensation is well below Ohio’s minimum wage of $7.85 when factoring in mandatory practices and 10 “charity” appearances. Practices were mandatory even during weeks when there were no home games.

“There’s always been a lot of discussion within the squad and other cheerleaders as well,” Brenneman told the Dayton Daily News on Thursday. “We respect our craft and what we do and it is a job and we want to be respected as athletes. Currently, we’re not making minimum wage.”

The Bengals released a statement addressing the subject: “The Ben-Gals cheerleading program has long been a program run by former cheerleaders and has enjoyed broad support in the community and by members of the squad. The lawsuit appears to be a copycat lawsuit that mimics the one filed last month in California against a different NFL club. The Bengals will address the litigation in due course.”

Oakland Raiders cheerleaders, the Raiderettes, sued that team under California wage laws in January. The Ben-Gals were established in 1968, the same year as the franchise.

Brenneman’s 20-page lawsuit states that the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks — the Sea Gals — are paid “an hourly wage and any applicable overtime required by law, for all hours worked.”

Brenneman, a fitness instructor who attended the University of Cincinnati, was featured in the 2013-14 Ben-Gals calendar in a swimsuit she had to buy herself. The suit says the Bengals organization keeps the money from sales or promotional appearances, and quotes a 2003 Forbes Magazine article that estimated that the revenue generated by a cheerleader squad such as the Ben-Gals amounts to “just over $1 million.”

“It’s always been a dream of mine to take my dance and my cheerleading to a professional level and I want to continue doing so, but I also think that this job needs to — for the amount of time and hard work that’s put into it — need to be treated with that respect and I think it’s an injustice to not even be making minimum wage.”

Brenneman said some NBA and NHL teams she’s spoken to pay their cheerleaders at least $10 per hour for their work.

The Ben-Gal rules specify that if cheerleaders miss practices, they will be forced to sit out games, which eliminates their game check. The suit said Brenneman missed one game due to a funeral and was not paid anything for that week.

“She did it for one year and then said, that’s enough,” said one of her attorneys, Todd Naylor. “People have read about it and I would imagine that some (cheerleaders) will decide one way or the other if they want to participate” in the class action suit.

Instead of drawn-out litigation, Naylor said he hopes “it won’t come to that, and that the Bengals make some changes.”

The Ben-Gals 6-page rules state that cheerleaders must show up in full makeup and hair at 7:45 a.m. for 1 p.m. games and the six of the 30 Ben-Gals who are not selected to cheer at that home game make just $45 but still must visit with suite-holders.

The Ben-Gal rules, which were attached to the suit as an exhibit, also include:

  • If you are over your 3-pound leniency weight, you will be required to stay 30 minutes after practice for extra conditioning
  • Insubordination to even the slightest degree is absolutely not tolerated. You will be benched or dismissed.
  • Pantyhose are to be worn to match skin tone, and black or nude seamless bras are mandatory to avoid slouching breasts.
  • No tattoos can be exposed and no belly-button rings or other body piercings besides stud earrings.

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