Former Houston Texans cheerleaders sue team over low pay and harassment

"We were harassed, bullied, and body shamed for $7.25 an hour."

Houston Texans cheerleaders at a November 2017 game. CREDIT: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Houston Texans cheerleaders at a November 2017 game. CREDIT: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Five former Houston Texans cheerleaders are suing the NFL team, claiming they weren’t paid for many hours of work and were subjected to intimidation and harassment on the job.

“We were harassed, bullied, and body shamed for $7.25 an hour,” former cheerleader Ainsley Parish said at a press conference Friday.

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The women, who are represented by prominent women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, accuse the team of failing to pay its cheerleaders minimum wage and overtime, as well as failing to provide a safe working environment.

“I was attacked by a fan at a game leaving abrasions on my shoulder. My attacker was not approached, nor was he removed from the game,” former cheerleader Hannah Turnbow said during the press conference. “I was told to just suck it up.”

The five women aren’t alone; just last month, three other former Houston Texans cheerleaders sued the team and its cheerleading supervisor for failing to adequately compensate the women for hours worked, and accused the supervisor of body-shaming and failing to protect the cheerleaders from physical harm.

The suit alleges that the cheerleader director, Altovise Gary, told one cheerleader that she had a “jelly belly,” and criticized another cheerleader’s hairstyle, threatening to “find another Latina girl to replace her.”

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In a statement, the team said it is “proud of the cheerleader program” and “will continue to make adjustments as needed to make the program enjoyable for everyone.”

The legal actions against the Texans are the latest in a growing body of reports and lawsuits detailing the exploitation of cheerleaders across the NFL.

Last month, the New York Times reported on disturbing allegations from former cheerleaders for Washington, D.C.’s NFL team, who claim they were forced to pose topless during a trip to Costa Rica in 2013 while male sponsors and suiteholders watched. Some of the women were then told they had to escort the men to a club later that night.

A former New Orleans Saints cheerleader filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission earlier this year, claiming she was fired for posting a photo of herself in a bathing suit on her private Instagram account and for attending a party where Saints players may have also been present. Saints cheerleaders are instructed to avoid players in any setting, even on social media, and as ThinkProgress’ Lindsay Gibbs wrote, the onus is fully on the cheerleaders to comply.

In recent years, cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and New York Jets have all filed lawsuits just to be paid the minimum wage for their work.