Bengals settle class action lawsuit with ex-Ben-Gals

The Cincinnati Bengals tentatively agreed to pay more than $250,000 to settle a class action lawsuit brought by a former Ben-Gal cheerleader alleging that the team violated federal minimum wage laws.

Springboro native Alexa Brenneman and all members of the Ben-Gals from 2011 to 2013 would receive at least $2,500 each per season in back wages, according to a proposed settlement filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

“The Bengals changed their compensation practices for cheerleaders in response to the lawsuit for the (2014) season,” said Christian Jenkins, one of Brenneman’s attorneys. “The settlement is designed to give them about twice the amount that they would have gotten had the Bengals paid them properly in the first place.”

As the lead name in the Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit, Brenneman, the 2008 Springboro High School graduate, would receive an additional $5,000 from the Bengals. None of the former Ben-Gals from those seasons have to file a lawsuit to get paid.

A message seeking comment from one of the Bengals’ attorneys was not immediately returned, but a memo filed along with the proposed settlement said the team “have denied and will continue to deny any liability or wrongdoing with respect to the alleged facts and causes of action asserted in the lawsuit.”

The joint motion for settlement states that the Bengals could walk away from the deal if a number of Ben-Gals opt out of the agreement, which could open the team up to more litigation. If the Bengals opted out, the suit would go forward. Jenkins said that as of Tuesday, no former Ben-Gals had opted out of the proposed settlement.

A fairness hearing is scheduled for Dec. 3 in front of U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett, who will rule on the attorney fees that the Bengals will pay to Brenneman’s lawyers.

Brenneman filed suit in early 2014, alleging 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 alleged that though the cheerleaders were paid $90 per home game during her stint, their compensation was 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.

The Ben-Gals’ 6-page rules included as an exhibit in the suit said that cheerleaders had to show up in full makeup and hair at 7:45 a.m. for 1 p.m. games and that the six of the 30 Ben-Gals not selected to cheer at that home game made just $45 but still had to visit suite-holders.

“There’s always been a lot of discussion within the squad and other cheerleaders as well,” Brenneman said in February 2014. “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 motion states that both sides believe evidence supports their positions, but that going forward would be lengthy and expensive.

Similar lawsuits involving cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been settled. Other suits still pending include NFL cheerleaders for the Bills and Jets.

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