An ex-Dallas Cowboys cheerleader is claiming in a federal lawsuit that she was paid much less than the team mascot.
According to USA Today, Erica Wilkins is seeking to recover wages as she accuses the Cowboys of failing to pay minimum wage and for not paying for overtime.
Wilkins’ suit alleges that the team violated The Equal Pay Act and Fair Labor Standards Act. She filed her case in the United States District Court for Northern District of Texas on Tuesday.
“They’re profiting off our images and our bodies that we work so hard to keep in shape,” Wilkins told WFAA-TV. "We put in so much work and not to be compensated fairly is really an injustice."
Wilkins cheered for the NFL team from May 2014 until August 2017. Within the two full calendar years she spent on the squad, she claimed she only averaged $14,448 in annual compensation.
However, the team’s mascot, Rowdy, made about $65,000, according to the suit.
“[Wilkins] and other cheerleader employees of [the Cowboys], who were all female, are/were paid at a rate less than defendant’s mascot, ‘Rowdy,’ who, at all times relevant, was male,” the filing states. “[The cheerleaders] performed work which required equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions as defendant’s mascot.”
Wilkins also said that she was not compensated for mandatory social media postings or for appearing on the CMT reality show, “Making the Team.”
The former cheerleader’s suit is the latest in a growing list of complaints filed against NFL teams related to pay inequality and mistreatment.
Earlier this year, New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis filed a discrimination lawsuit, claiming that she was fired from the squad for posting a photo wearing a one-piece outfit on Instagram. Apparently, she was told that the photo violated the rules, which “prohibit cheerleaders from appearing nude, semi-nude, or in lingerie.”
She was also allegedly chastised for attending a party at which Saints players were present, which violated another policy. Her case, ultimately, shed light on the NFL’s sexism by exposing the absurd rules that apply to cheerleaders but not to players.
A group of Washington Redskins cheerleaders also spoke out this year, alleging that they were essentially “pimped” out as they were forced to escort male fans and pose nude for a calendar shoot in front of male sponsors.
Unfortunately though, these lawsuits and complaints may not yield very significant results because NFL cheerleaders are required to sign contracts which mandate that disputes of this nature go through arbitration.
At the very least, the cheerleaders' efforts to raise public awareness to these issues will serve as a warning to other young women and girls aspiring to join these teams and prompt them to think twice.
The NFL should clean up its act, however, as the league is already embroiled in other troubles regarding player protests and boycotts. A cheerleader revolt could find success amid the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and might be the nail that seals the coffin of the league's bleak future.
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