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New York Jets become fourth NFL team sued by cheerleaders over wages

By Victoria Cavaliere

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Jets on Tuesday became the fourth National Football League team to be sued by former cheerleaders claiming wage theft and other labor law violations.

Krystal C., who spent one year as a Jets cheerleader in 2012, filed the lawsuit in New Jersey state court seeking back pay on behalf of the entire squad.

The lawsuit followed similar legal action since January by cheerleaders with the Oakland Raiders in California, the Cincinnati Bengals in Ohio and the Buffalo Bills in New York.

In her lawsuit, Krystal C. said she and her teammates were paid a flat $150 fee for games but were not compensated for practice time, travel time and other work.

"When you look at the actual hours worked versus what Krystal was paid, she only made $3.77 per hour," her attorney Patricia Pierce said.

New York's minimum wage is now $8.75 per hour.

Krystal C., who like many cheerleaders uses an initial instead of her surname to protect her privacy, was emboldened to file suit after watching other cheerleaders come forward, her attorney said.

"The failure to pay the women who work as cheerleaders a legal wage for all of the hours that they work is clearly an NFL-wide problem that needs to change," Pierce said.

The New York Jets did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

In April, a wage theft lawsuit brought by five former cheerleaders with the Buffalo Bills prompted the cheering squad to suspend operations for the upcoming season that starts September 14.

The lawsuits have also focused attention on the working conditions of cheerleaders who, unlike professional football players, are not represented by a labor union.

"There has been some talk of organizing a national cheer association as a result of these lawsuits, and that is a possibility," lawyer Marc Panepinto, whose firm is representing the five former Buffalo cheerleaders, said in an interview.

The lawsuit by the Bills cheerleaders, known as the Buffalo Jills, claims the women were forced to work up to 840 unpaid hours a year.

The women also claim they had to pass embarrassing body fat inspections known as the "jiggle test."

"They work their rear ends off literally and figuratively to be Jills," he said. "You can't not pay people when they do work."

Oakland Raiders cheerleaders claim in their lawsuit filed in January that their pay works out to be less than $5 per hour, and the Cincinnati Bengals lawsuit in February said their pay is less than $2.85 an hour, significantly under Ohio's minimum wage of $7.85.

Neither the National Football League nor Stejon Productions Corp, which manages the Jills, responded to a request for comment.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Ellen Wulfhorst and Richard Chang)

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