HOUSTON (CN) – Five former Houston Texans cheerleaders claim in a lawsuit filed Friday that they were subjected to a hostile workplace and not protected from mental and physical abuses perpetrated by fans and their own coach.
The women reiterated many of the claims made in a federal class action brought against the National Football League team last week, alleging they were not fairly compensated or paid overtime.
At a Friday press conference in Houston to announce the lawsuit, the cheerleaders said the team did nothing to protect them from being exploited and discriminated against.
“We were harassed, we were bullied and we were body-shamed for $7.25 an hour,” former Texans cheerleader Ainsley Parish said.
Parish and the other plaintiffs – Hannah Turnbow, Morgan Wiederhold, Ashley Rodriguez, and Kelly Neuner – are represented by Houston-based attorney Kimberley Spurlock, and high-profile women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred, who is based in Los Angeles. Allred recently represented 33 women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault and other misconduct.
“When each hour of the practices, games, appearances, travel time, preparation, and required social media marketing is accounted, the Houston Texans cheerleaders earn pennies for each hour worked,” according to the 20-page lawsuit filed in Houston federal court.
Apart from the Texans’ alleged failure to fairly compensate cheerleaders for the hours they worked – or for the use of their pictures on promotional materials – the lawsuit also claims that the team did not provide the cheerleaders with adequate security despite the fact that they were subjected to physical assaults by fans on an ongoing basis.
According to the suit, the cheerleaders who are paraded through the stadium during games have a “safe word.”
“‘Toro’ means more than the Texans mascot,” the complaint states. “It means a woman does not feel safe.”
After one plaintiff was physically assaulted at a game, the suit claims, her coach told her to “deal with it and move on,” even though she had visible physical injuries and was deeply shaken by the experience.
As in last week’s class action, the plaintiffs in Friday’s complaint claim that their cheerleading coach, Altovise Gary, cyberbullied and body-shamed the women, and assaulted one woman by duct-taping down the sides of her stomach under her uniform.
“Plaintiffs were in a constant state of fear around [Gary], anxiously anticipating whether they would be the next one subjected to her physical assaults,” the cheerleaders said in the complaint.
Gary is not named as a defendant in Friday’s lawsuit, but was named in the class action.
The cheerleaders allege they were often reminded that they were “replaceable” and were reprimanded for speaking up.
“The Houston Texans should not have given us a uniform if they did not want us to become an army,” Parish said at the press conference.
The former cheerleaders are asking a federal judge to declare that the Texans violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and order the team to pay the plaintiffs for unpaid overtime hours and other damages.
“Their main goal is to seek change for the women that will come after them so that the Houston Texans will treat all their employees fairly and with respect,” Allred said.
The proposed class in the May 22 complaint is represented by Bruse Loyd with Jones, Gillaspia and Loyd.