The Buffalo Bills are facing a legal blitz as they tentatively settle a $3 million class action over the team’s text messaging practices. Former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders are now suing the team for allegedly exploiting them financially.
The NFL team agreed to settle a proposed class action originated by plaintiff representative Jerry Wojcik. U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday signed off on the deal on April 17 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Wojcik v. Buffalo Bills, Inc. Read the order here.
Wojcik, a Bills fan residing in Pinellas County, Fla., signed up in September 2012 via the team’s website to receive text messages alerting him to news and announcements by the team. The deal specified that recipients would receive between three and five text alerts a week for 12 months, and a chance to win tickets and team merchandise. But Wojcik said he received 13 total in the first two weeks after he enrolled.
The plaintiffs claim the team violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act that bars texts and calls sent automatically to phones without the recipient’s permission. Wojcik contends such messages are not only annoying, but also potentially costly for those who must pay per-text fees.
The Bills agreed to settle the case by providing up to $2.5 million in debit cards, redeemable only at the team store, to those who had signed up for the no-more-than-five text service, as well as $562,000 to plaintiffs’ lawyers, and $5,000 to Wojcik for serving as the class representative.
Meanwhile, the former Bills cheerleaders—identified only by their first names—filed a putative class action April 22 in which they accused the team and companies in charge of the cheerleaders with paying them below minimum wage, if at all.
In Jaclyn S. v. Buffalo Bills, filed April 22 in State of New York Supreme Court, Erie County, the plaintiffs allege they received no pay for the eight-hours they worked at each home game, but were given one $90 ticket and a $25 parking pass. They also were not paid for two required, eight-hour practices a week.
Noting the team reaps $256 million in annual revenue, the complaint states each cheerleader had to pay for her own $650 uniform, spend her own money on hotel and transportation expenses for out of town appearances, shell out as much as $750 on Bills swimsuit calendars and then sell them on their own time to recoup the money, and pay for their own hair styling, manicures and makeup.
The complaint alleges the team and its contractors broke New York labor laws and engaged in unjust enrichment.
In recent months, cheerleaders for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals have filed similar suits.
In Wojcik, plaintiffs’ attorneys are Scott Owens, Esq.; Keith Keogh, Keogh Law, Ltd.; and James Giardina; and the Consumer Rights Law Group, PLLC. Defendant’s counsel are Jeffry Reina and Kenneth Webster, Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria, LLP; and Janelle Weber, Shutts & Bowen, LLP.
In Jaclyn S., plaintiffs’ attorneys are Sean Cooney, Frank Dolce and Marc Panepinto, of Dolce Panepinto, P.C.
Lisa Hoffman contributes to law.com.