Five former cheerleaders announced at a press conference on Friday that they are suing the Houston Texans for unfair pay practices, gender discrimination, and alleged harassment. The women are being represented by feminist firebrand Gloria Allred, who has a long history of facing powerful men head-on, recently representing 33 women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. Former cheerleader Ainsley Parish summed up the women’s determination to seek justice, saying, “The Houston Texans should not have given us a uniform if they did not want us to become an army."
According to Allred, team officials harassed and intimidated cheerleaders, threatening to fire them if they spoke out. To make matters worse, the women performed a highly demanding physical job for $7.25 an hour and were not paid for additional required trips and appearances. The lawsuit also details accusations against the manager of the Texans cheerleading squad, Gary Alto, including many disparaging comments about squad members’ looks, and telling one women that if she would not curl her hair he would “find another Latina girl to replace her.”
The women represented by Allred are filing five separate suits against the team, but their announcement comes on the heels of a class action lawsuit against the Texans filed by three different former cheerleaders just last week. The Texans responded to both suits with the same blanket statement that doesn’t address the serious exploitation claims: “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. We are constantly evaluating our procedures and will continue to make adjustments as needed to make the program enjoyable for everyone.”
The lawsuits join a wave of public revelations about NFL cheerleaders in the past few months. A shocking expose published by the New York Times on May 2 demanded the world’s attention by detailing a slew of cringe-worthy practices cheerleaders for the Washington Redskins have been subject to, including a trip to Costa Rica where team officials confiscated their passports, asked them to pose topless for a calendar while sponsors watched, then informed the women they were required to escort sponsors to a nightclub as their dates. Suits claiming unfair pay practices have also been brought against the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders, and Buffalo Bills.