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Bills cheerleaders file suit against team over pay, harassment

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ORCHARD PARK, NY - AUGUST 09: Buffalo Jills cheerleaders dance during a timeout at Ralph Wilson Stadium on August 9, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York.Washington won 7-6. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

This might come as a shock to some, but being an NFL cheerleader isn't quite the cushy gig it might first appear. Sure, there's the pompoms and the cheering and the adoring eyes of thousands of men. But according to a new lawsuit filed by five Buffalo Bills cheerleaders ... there's not much else.

The cheerleaders have filed the suit in state Supreme Court, charging that they worked hundreds of hours a year for free at events, and were subjected to groping and other violations of employment protections. Most notably, the cheerleaders had to undergo a "jiggle test," in which they performed jumping jacks prior to that week's games. The cheerleaders that, well, jiggled were told to cut the fat or hit the road.

The case hinges on whether the cheerleaders, known as the "Jills," are independent contractors. The plaintiffs charge that the Bills violate the state's $8 per hour minimum wage rule. The Jills are managed by Stejon Productions, and were formerly managed by Citadel Communications, not the Bills themselves. However, the suit charges that since the Bills had total control over the cheerleaders, right down to their hygiene, the Bills were de facto employers.

Cheerleaders are responsible for their own travel expenses, and must pay $650 for their uniforms. They pay a $50 fee to try out. They're also expected to attend two to three dozen charity events, most of which are unpaid, over the course of a season. The lawsuit charged that the cheerleaders totaled more than 800 hours a year of unpaid work. The plaintiffs' pay for the entire season ranged from a high of $806 to a low of $150. For the entire season.

The suit also charges that the Jills had to endure both verbal and physical harassment at various team-related functions. Here's the lawsuit's account of a charity golf tournament:

The Jills Annual Golf Tournament–Select Jills were required to wear a bikini, and then go into a dunk tank, where they were dunked in water by the golf tournament participants. Jills cheerleaders are also "auctioned off" like prizes at this event, and had to ride around with the winning bidder in his golf cart for the duration of the tournament. While serving as a "bought person" they were subjected to additional demeaning treatment, including degrading sexual comments and inappropriate touching. Oftentimes, the Jills were forced to sit on participants' laps because there was not enough seats in the golf carts. The golf tournament also featured a "Flip for Tips" component, wherein participants paid gratuities to watch select Jills do backflips and acrobatics for the gratification of the crowd. (The Jills did not receive any of the tip money).

The Bills declined to comment on the pending litigation.

This is the third such lawsuit filed this year over cheerleading; both the Raiders and Bengals have been the target of similar suits. Via Deadspin, read the complete complaint here.

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Jay Busbee is a contributor for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter.

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