It will be considerably quieter on the sidelines of Ralph Wilson Stadium this fall. Stejon Productions, the company that handles the Buffalo Jills, the Buffalo Bills cheerleading squad, has suspended operations for the upcoming NFL season. The action followed on the heels of a civil suit filed by five of the team’s cheerleaders. The women had complained of over work and underpayment. After examining the facts, however, few would argue that Buffalo Bills cheerleaders have a right to complain of sexist treatment.
The suspension had been announced by Stephanie Mateczun, owner of Stejon Productions and manager of the Buffalo Jills. In addition to Stejon Productions, the suit names the Buffalo Bills team and Citadel Communications, the Jills’ former management company, as defendants. The suit, filed in the New York Supreme Court, asks for unspecified payment of back wages and legal fees. Similar suits have been brought against the NFL Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals organizations.
The five cheerleaders claim they were subjected to “jingle tests” by Mateczun. The test was performed, they said, so that Mateczun could assess their physiques. The women were required to do jumping jacks while their stomachs, arms, hips, legs and posteriors were scrutinized. Jills that didn’t pass the test were given warnings, and sometimes not allowed to perform at the next home game. In addition, Jills were given lists of rules that included the proper washing “of intimate areas” and how often to change tampons. Attorney Frank Dolce, who represents the five women, said the suspension of activities won’t affect the lawsuit brought against the team or management company because the suit deals with past situations.
There were other rules and restrictions that may have given the Buffalo Bills cheerleaders further right to complain of sexist treatment. The lawsuit filed by the five women says that there were more rules governing the color of their nail polish, hair and even what they could post on social media like Facebook. There were also 17 rules for etiquette at appearances and 25 rules of etiquette for formal dining. There were even 17 rules about what to say when talking with people with disabilities.
The Buffalo Jills website says the cheerleading squad began in 1967, eight years after the Buffalo Bills became founding members of the American Football League in 1959. Starting in 1986, the Bills organization turned over management of the squad to private companies like Citadel and Stejon Productions.
The Jills are listed as “independent contractors, not Bills employees, and thus are not subject to the state’s minimum wage law of $8 per hour. The women are not paid for games or practices, and most appearances at community and charitable events are unpaid, according to the lawsuit. Buffalo Jills are expected to pay $650 for their uniforms and are not reimbursed for travel or expenses, the women said.
The Jills aren’t paid for games or practices and have to make 20-35 appearances, most of which are unpaid, at community and charity events each season, the lawsuit said. On top of that, the five Jills said they have to pay $650 for their uniforms and are not reimbursed for travel or other expenses.
The bottom line may be financial. The lawsuit maintains that the Jills are overworked, over-managed and under paid. A close look, however, shows that the Buffalo Bills cheerleaders also had a right to complain of sexist treatment.
Commentary by B. David Warner