According to two recent lawsuits, being a cheerleader for the Houston Texans is nothing to cheer about. A new complaint said the women were paid rock bottom: $7.25 an hour, the Texas minimum wage. All this, in spite of having to do dozens of lucrative appearances, and even fund their own personal maintenance and travel expenses. One cheerleader also said the organization did nothing after a fan assaulted her.
The plaintiffs announce their complaint Friday morning, and were joined by attorney Gloria Allred, and Houston-based lawyers Kimberley Spurlock and Misty Cone.
“They were harassed, intimidated, and forced to live in fear that they could be cut from the team for the slightest infraction,” Allred said about the plaintiffs. “They were told repeatedly that they were dispensable, and disposable, and that the surest way to be fired was to speak out.”
And they allegedly weren’t protected from harm. Hannah Turnbow, who said she became a cheerleader in 2017, said they were treated like the “lowest of the low.” For example, a fan attacked her during one event, and caused shoulder abrasions, but the team did nothing about him, she said. Instead, she was told to “suck it up,” she claimed. Allred said there were photos of the injury.
Co-plaintiff Kelly Neuner said the team took advantage of her and her teammates. She was underpaid for public appearances, which made a considerable amount of money for the Texans.
Other complaints by the former cheerleaders included being body-shamed, and not being reimbursed when a personal image was used in merchandise. One woman said the team told them what to wear, how to wear their hair, who to follow on social media, what to post, who they could hangout with in their personal time, where they could go, who they could talk to, or what they could say.
Allred said the women less than a McDonald’s employee or parking attendants at the stadium. The low pay was in spite of the cheerleaders being key to the Texans’ business, which paid millions to male football players.
“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,” Amy Palcic, Vice President of Communications for the Texans, wrote in an emailed statement to Law&Crime. “We are constantly evaluating our procedures and will continue to make adjustments as needed to make the program enjoyable for everyone.”
This is the same statement we got when we wrote about another recent complaint against the team. A former cheerleader, named in court documents as P.G.G., filed suit on May 21. Like the women in the new complaint, she said her wages were only $7.25, and she wasn’t compensated for all events or personal maintenance expenses. She also singled out cheerleading coach Altovise Gary (aka “Coach Alto”). According to her, he called one cheerleader “belly jelly,” and “chunky cheek. He poked another’s face and asked if she had her “freshman 15,” the lawsuit said. He allegedly told this woman she looked like she “ate a plate of salt.” After one game, he threw a fit after one game because a dancer missed a step, the complaint said–he allegedly took scissors, entered the cheerleaders’ locker room, and slashed hundred of balloons that spelled out “HTC” (Houston Texans Cheerleaders).
In January 2016, the New York Jets settled a similar lawsuit with 52 current and former cheerleaders who claimed to have been underpaid for their work, and uncompensated for expenses incurred in travel and required personal appearance practices.
[Screengrab via KHOU]