The Buffalo Jills cheer their hearts out for the Bills at their games, but the team didn’t show any support for the cheerleaders after five former Jills sued the team and the company that manages the Jills over their pay and treatment, the company’s attorney and owner said Wednesday.
That’s why the Buffalo Jills suspended operations a day after the suit was filed, said Dennis C. Vacco, attorney for Stejon Productions.
“Unfortunately, the manner in which the Bills have handled this issue has left Stejon with no other option,” he said. “The cheerleading squad exists for the benefit of the Bills but without their support, the Jills cannot continue to operate.”
He added that the decision to suspend Jills operations “was not done as a ‘punishment’ as some have suggested.”
Stephanie Mateczun, owner of Stejon Productions in West Seneca, also cited the Bills’ lack of support.
“It was only after serious and thoughtful consideration, consultation with my attorneys, and with the best interests of the women who are members of the squad in mind, that the decision was made to suspend all activities for the Jills until this legal matter can be resolved,” she said.
“The Buffalo Bills own the trademark for the Jills; they control the field and everything that happens on that field, from the uniforms the cheerleaders wear to the dances they perform. Yet the organization appears content to attempt to wash their hands of any connection to their own cheerleading squad,” Mateczun added.
She also dismissed speculation in the community in the wake of the lawsuit that the Bills have little control over the Jills.
“The Buffalo Bills management operates a football team valued by some at nearly $900 million,” she said. “If people believe they don’t maintain influence and control over every part of their operation, including their cheerleaders, they are mistaken.”
After the suit was filed April 22 in State Supreme Court, Scott Berchtold, Bills senior vice president of communications, said, “We are aware of this lawsuit, and it is our organizational policy not to comment on pending litigation.”
Berchtold responded Wednesday to Stejon’s contention that the Bills have not supported the Jills in the wake of the lawsuit. “We are confident in our position in this matter and look forward to presenting our defense to any allegations as part of the legal process,” he said.
Meanwhile, Vacco responded to the lawsuit’s claim that the five former Jills were not paid the $8-an-hour minimum wage for the hundreds of hours they worked each season, providing about 20 hours of unpaid labor per week for much of the year, or about 840 hours of unpaid work per woman, per year.
“While much has been said about how the Jills were compensated, there was an extensive list of benefits given to the members of the squad that included free surgical procedures, free gym memberships, free tanning memberships, and free tickets and parking to all Buffalo Bills home games,” Vacco said.
He added that before the lawsuit was filed, the Bills had offered to pay the Jills to participate in draft day events and to supplement their pay for the 2014 NFL season but withdrew a commitment to fund the squad after the former Jills sued.
Besides the Bills and Stejon Production, the suit also names Citadel Communications, previous manager of the Jills.
In addition to low pay, the suit alleges that the defendants exposed the former Jills to degrading treatment at community events, deducted money from their pay for infractions of rules, kept their gratuities and failed to reimburse them for certain business expenses, including their $650 uniforms, hairstylings, nails and travel to out-of-town events.
The suit says that as a condition of employment, every Jill had to sign a contract that wrongly classified them as an “independent contractor,” not an employee, meaning they would not be covered by the state’s minimum wage law and other protections.
Another former Jill sued Stejon Productions and Citadel last month over the same issues. But unlike the first suit, this one does not name the Bills and is a class-action lawsuit. The second suit, filed on behalf of Caitlin Ferrari who was a Jill during the 2009 season, says the class is made up of about 200 women who were Jills from April 22, 2008 to the present.
Vacco said a class-action suit also was filed Tuesday in New York City against the New York Jets over the pay and treatment of their cheerleaders.