Milwaukee Bucks Dancer Settlement Agreement Not Quite a Slam Dunk

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In September 2015, former Milwaukee Bucks dance team member Lauren Herington filed a class action against the NBA franchise, claiming that it engaged in “prolific wage abuse” of her and other members of the dance and cheerleading squads. The suit was filed in Wisconsin’s federal courts, and claimed that Bucks dancers spent hours in training, wardrobe maintenance, practice and dancing at games, as well as appearing at charity events and posing for a calendar. The dancers would be paid a flat rate of $65 per game, $30 for practice and $50 for special appearances. According to the suit, they would earn less than minimum wage most weeks.

Herrington’s attorney, Ryan Stephan, stated “the Milwaukee Buck’s emphasis on physical appearance and almost round-the-clock mandatory workouts not only violate applicable law, but also sets a bad example for our youth.”

In April 2017, the Milwaukee Bucks agreed to pay up to $250,000 to settle the class-action lawsuit against their team. The settlement proposal would pay Herrington $10,000 and her attorneys $115,000. The settlement would also give 40 other women employed as dancers for the Bucks from September 12, 2012, to July 31, 2015 the chance to “opt-in” to the settlement and receive payments based on their particular hours worked during the covered period. Women who choose not to apply for their share of the settlement balance of $125,000 would retain any individual claim they might have against the Bucks.

On Monday, July 10, 2017, Wisconsin federal district judge, Lynn Adelman, certified a collective action for the lawsuit, but refused to give his initial approval to the $250,000 settlement proposal due to a lack of data as to how much each plaintiff would reap from the deal. Judge Adelman agreed based on the parties’ “extensive discovery and negotiations and the lack of any dispositive motions filed” that a bona fide dispute existed, but could not determine whether the settlement was a “fair and reasonable” resolution of the suit. Judge Adelman stated he will hold off on determining the fairness of the deal until consents have been filed and the dancers and Bucks explain how the distribution will work.

At $250,000, the Bucks would get away relatively cheap compared to recent labor disputes by dance teams for professional franchises. In 2015, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers paid $825,000 to settle similar claims, and the Oakland Raiders paid $1.24 million in a suit brought by the Raiderettes. The suit against the Bucks was the first raising the issues against an NBA team.

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