An eight-year legal battle between Cumulus Media and a group of former Buffalo Bills cheerleaders 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 as part of an agreement with the owner of the NFL team.
In a settlement approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Shelley Chapman on Tuesday, Cumulus and the Bills have resolved all outstanding claims with more than fifty former cheerleaders represented in the class action lawsuit. The NFL team – which had previously argued that the radio station was entirely at fault – will pay $3.5 million.
The lawsuit, originally filed in New York State Supreme Court in April 2014 by Caitlin Ferrari and four other cheerleaders, alleged that Citadel Broadcasting and the Bills violated New York labor law and owed them salary arrears because they had been wrongly classified as independent contractors rather than employees. In their lawsuit, the cheerleaders claimed they were forced to make appearances but were not compensated for approximately 840 hours of unpaid work per year, a violation of state labor laws.
Citing records from the 2012-13 season regarding five members of the Jills, the website LegalNews.com reported that this Jill, who was not part of the suit, worked 360.5 hours this season and was only paid for 17.5 hours. Another worked 372.75 hours and was paid 16 hours.
The lawsuit also alleged that the cheerleaders were required to model and sell copies of a swimsuit calendar without being compensated.
In an unusual setup for a radio station, “97 Rock” handled the cheerleading. The station, which no longer carries Bills games, is now owned by Cumulus Media, which inherited the lawsuit when it bought “97 Rock” as part of its 2011 takeover of Citadel.
In 2016, the state court certified all of the Bills’ cheerleading and ambassador teams since April 22, 2008 as members of the class action.
The following year, Cumulus filed for Chapter 11 reorganization and the bankruptcy court became involved. When the company emerged from the process in June 2018, the still-pending Jills lawsuit was assigned to Cumulus as a “contested claim” that the broadcaster could settle without bankruptcy court approval.
In Tuesday’s settlement agreement, Cumulus denies having “any legal or equitable liability for the damages and injuries claimed” and denies any wrongdoing. But after reviewing the legal costs of continuing the legal battle and the likelihood of winning, Cumulus says settling some of the claims in the litigation for a “reduced amount” and “wiping out” the rest is in its “best interests.” “.
In addition to a $4 million payment made in the form of Cumulus stock to Ferrari and the other former Jills listed in the lawsuit, the Buffalo Bills agreed to pay $3.5 million.
The lawsuit survived the Buffalo Jills. After the court case was filed during the 2014 season, team management suspended team operations. It has not yet been revived.