Ex-NFL Cheerleader Sues Dallas Cowboys, Claims She Was Paid Thousands Less than Team Mascot
Erica Wilkins, a former cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys, has sued the team for unpaid wages, and claims cheerleaders, who were all female, were paid thousands of less dollars than the team’s mascot, who was often portrayed by a male.
Wilkins, who made it onto the Dallas Cowboy’s “shoe team” during the 2014-2015 season, told the New York Post she only made $4,700 a year after taxes — and was only paid $8 an hour, which is less than a dollar above the federal minimum wage. Meanwhile, she claims that the team’s mascot, a cowboy called Randy, was paid $64,000 a year, in addition to receiving commission.
Although she wanted to be a part of the “prestigious” team since the “seventh or eighth grade,” she told the outlet, “At the end of the day, prestige doesn’t pay my rent. I can’t walk down to my leasing office and hand them my uniform for the month.”
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for Northern District of Texas, according to online court records. Wilkins is the only plaintiff named in the lawsuit.
A representative for the Dallas Cowboys had no comment on the lawsuit when reached by PEOPLE.
Wilkins, whose career ended in August 2017 after suffering from a neck and shoulder injury, also claimed in the lawsuit that she was not paid for all of the hours she worked on a weekly basis, nor did she receive overtime pay.
She also went on to detail the hidden expenses she was responsible for, claiming that Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders are not given “a stipend” to help them maintain their appearances or even given gym memberships — despite the pressure they reportedly face to look a certain way.
“[Management] gives you a rookie makeover, and once you make the team you’re required to maintain that look. So if they give me highlights and extensions, which they did, I’m then expected to pay for the upkeep of that,” she explained, adding that she paid “close to $150 a month” to get her hair done, and spent $10 to $15 once or twice a month to get a spray tan.
“[The Cowboys organization] is selling our image, our likeness — images of our bodies that we work very hard to keep in shape — and they’re the only ones making the profit,” she remarked.
Wilkins went on to claim that many cheerleaders are unwilling to voice any complaints because “unlike the players, we don’t sign a contract that guarantees us anything.”
“I could’ve settled with the Cowboys for just my back wages and unpaid wages that they owed me — they offered that,” she added. “But I am not willing to settle…My goal is to help other cheerleaders, and women as a whole.”
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Over the past couple of months, several ex-NFL cheerleaders have taken legal action against their former teams.
In March, former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that the Saints make the all-female cheerleading squad and the all-male football team follow different sets of rules that favor players.
Additionally, two separate groups of Houston Texans cheerleaders have filed lawsuits against the team.
In one class-action lawsuit, four former cheerleaders claimed they were subjected to harassment about their appearances by the team’s cheerleading director, according to USA Today. In the second, which was announced earlier this month, five ex-cheerleaders alleged they were harassed and did not always receive payment for public appearances.
“We were harassed, we were bullied and we were body-shamed for $7.25 an hour,” former cheerleader Ainsley Parish told CNN Money. “The Houston Texans should not have given us a uniform if they did not want us to become an army.”