More NFL cheerleaders are headed to the courtroom.
The league has already been rocked by claims that cheerleaders have faced discrimination and mistreatment on the job. Now the Washington Post reports that three former cheerleaders for the Houston Texans have filed a federal lawsuit accusing their cheer coach of harassment and a failure to properly compensate or protect them.
The class-action lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, claims that Texans cheerleading director Alto Gary picked on the cheerleaders’ appearance. According to Paige G., the suit’s only named plaintiff, some members of the squad claimed that Gary told them to not eat ahead of games.
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“Coach Alto walked up to a cheerleader and poked her face asking her if she had gained her ‘freshman 15,’ saying she looked like she ‘ate a plate of salt,’” the plaintiffs charge.
Gary is also accused of telling a Hispanic cheerleader that she would “find another Latina girl to replace her” if she didn’t curl her straight hair. Houston’s ABC 13 affiliate reports that Gary is also accused of telling one woman she had a “jelly belly” and “chunky cheek.”
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The three women also say that they weren’t paid for certain work, which they claim is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The cheerleaders were paid state minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) but claim that many appearances went uncompensated.
“I knew what I would be making when I signed up,” one unnamed plaintiff told the Post. “I didn’t know half the hours I worked, I wasn’t going to be paid for.”
They also say that cheerleading officials failed to provide security during appearances in which the cheerleaders interacted with fans, resulting in claims of physical assault and fear for their personal safety.
“Young girls in cheer uniforms, we’re definitely targets,” an unnamed plaintiff said. “We did ask coach a lot, ‘Is security going to be there?’ And she would be like, ‘I don’t know. Maybe.’”
A source told the Post that the team did change its policies to offer more protection, but the three plaintiffs say that their efforts to enact change resulted in their not making the 2018 squad, according to USA Today.
Though Gary hasn’t commented on the matter, a representative for the Houston Texans has issued a statement to media outlets responding to the lawsuit.
“We are proud of the cheerleader program and have had hundreds of women participate and enjoy their experience while making a positive impact in the local community,” said Amy Palcic, vice president of communications. “We are constantly evaluating our procedures and will continue to make adjustments as needed to make the program enjoyable for everyone.”
The lawsuit is just the latest cheerleading scandal to rock the NFL. Cheerleaders for several teams have made claims of sexual harassment, body shaming, and discrimination, including a charge that Washington Redskins cheerleaders were made to serve as escorts and pose topless for a photo shoot.
Bailey Davis, a former member of the New Orleans Saints squad, has also filed a gender discrimination lawsuit alleging that she was fired for posting a provocative photo on social media. And a complaint filed by former Miami Dolphins cheerleader Kristan Ware claims that she was harassed over her religious faith.
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