An eight-year-old legal battle between Cumulus Media and a group of former cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills has been settled in bankruptcy court. The $4 million settlement, under which Cumulus admits no wrongdoing, dates back to when Cumulus predecessor Citadel Broadcasting’s “97 Rock” WGRF was the Bills radio flagship and managed the Buffalo Jills under an agreement with the NFL team’s owner.
Under a settlement approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Shelley Chapman on Tuesday, Cumulus and the Bills resolved all outstanding claims with more than fifty former cheerleaders represented in the class action. The NFL team – which had earlier argued that the radio station was fully at fault – will pay $3.5 million.
The suit, originally filed in New York State Supreme Court in April 2014 by Caitlin Ferrari and four other cheerleaders, alleged Citadel Broadcasting and the Bills violated New York Labor Law and owed them back pay because they were misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees. In their suit the cheerleaders claimed they were forced to make appearances but were not compensated for about 840 hours of unpaid work per year, a violation of state labor laws.
Citing records from the 2012-2013 season relating to five members of the Jills, the website LegalNews.com reported that that one Jill, who was not a party to the suit, worked 360.5 hours during that season and was paid for only 17.5 hours. Another worked 372.75 hours and was paid for 16 hours.
The suit also alleged that the cheerleaders were required to model for, and sell copies of, a swimsuit calendar without being compensated.
In an unusual setup for a radio station, “97 Rock” managed the cheerleaders. The station, which no longer carries Bills games, is now owned by Cumulus Media, which inherited the suit when it bought “97 Rock” as part of its 2011 Citadel buyout.
By 2016, the State court certified all Bills cheerleading and ambassador squads since April 22, 2008, as members of the class action.
The following year, Cumulus filed for chapter 11 reorganization and the bankruptcy court got involved. When the company emerged from the process in June 2018, the still unsettled Jills suit was put into the hands of Cumulus as a “disputed claim” which the broadcaster could settle without approval of the bankruptcy court.
In Tuesday’s settlement agreement, Cumulus denies that it has “any legal or equitable responsibility for the damages and injuries claimed” and denies any wrongdoing. But after considering the legal costs of continuing the court battle and the likelihood of winning, Cumulus says settling some of the claims in the dispute for a “reduced amount” and “expunging” the rest is in its “best interests.”
Along with a $4 million payment made in the form of Cumulus stock to Ferrari and the other former Jills listed in the suit, the Buffalo Bills have agreed to pay $3.5 million.
The lawsuit outlived the Buffalo Jills. After the legal case was brought during the 2014 season, team management suspended operations for the squad. It has not yet been revived.