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Former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Suing Team In Fair Pay Dispute

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - A former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader is taking on America's Team: filing a federal lawsuit alleging violation of equal pay and minimum wage laws.

"The prestige, that's great," says Erica Wilkins. "But at the end of the day, that prestige doesn't pay the bills or pay the rent and we have to be paid livable wages."

Erica Wilkins
Erica Wilkins - former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader (CBS11)

According to the lawsuit, Wilkins was a part of the squad from May of 2014 until August of last year. She says an injury ended her cheerleading career; but the stardust had already started to fade.

"People say 'what about all of the endorsement deals, and advertising deals that you get money from'," recalls Wilkins, who stressed "that's simply not true: we're not allowed to get endorsements like the players."

Wilkins says the cheerleaders pictured in the popular calendars get no royalties from the sales—and must even purchase their own copies of the calendar for family and friends.

As for the critics who say "you knew what you were getting into," Wilkins counters, "not quite."

"We are considered part time employees… but, the time requirements that they expect from us is full time. The late night practices that run until 2:00 to 3:00 in the morning. Those things add up and we deserve to be compensated for the hours that we put in."

Erica Wilkins
Erica Wilkins - former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader (Dallas Cowboys)

The lawsuit accuses the Cowboys of not paying cheerleaders for all of the hours worked, and of not paying overtime. The lawsuit also raises the issue of pay disparity with the Cowboys male mascot, Rowdy, saying he earns $25 an hour—more than three times the cheerleaders $8 an hour wage.

Houston Texans v Dallas Cowboys

"Again, nobody's asking to get rich," says employment attorney Allen Vaught with Baron & Budd. "They just want to get paid fair."

Vaught says the cheerleading squads are stuck in the past and it's time for the entire system to change.

"They've got this mascot Rowdy who makes $65,000 a year," says Vaught, while the cheerleaders are "struggling to get by. I'm hoping that the Cowboys want to be a part of that change... where these professional cheerleaders, these athletes, are paid a fair day's pay for a fair day's work."

The leader of the Cowboys' cheerleaders did not respond to a request for comment. Meanwhile, Vaught says he has rejected the company's offer to pay Wilkins for overtime and back pay owed—saying they are seeking class action status so that other cheerleaders can join the lawsuit. But, ultimately, they say, they're looking to change the system.

"I'm not doing this for the money," says Wilkins. "I'm not doing this to get rich... I'm doing this to make a change."

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