Houston Texans cheerleaders were called names like 'chunky cheek' — and underpaid, suit says

Houston Texans cheerleaders perform before an NFL football game abetween the Houston Texans and the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Houston.
Houston Texans cheerleaders perform before an NFL football game abetween the Houston Texans and the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Houston. Associated Press

Three former Houston Texans cheerleaders are suing the team, alleging they were underpaid and body-shamed by team personnel.

The primary claim in the class-action suit is financial. The plaintiff, identified only by the initials P.G. in the suit, and Paige G. by the Houston Chronicle, claims that she and other members of the team were paid $7.25 an hour for work during games and other official Texans events.

But that didn't include time spent for other job requirements including: managing their team-affiliated social media accounts, monitoring team email, workouts, spray tans before every game and event and signing hundreds of copies of the team's annual cheerleader calendars.

But the suit also names Texans cheerleading director Altovise Gary individually as a defendant. Paige G. and the two other plaintiffs, who were on the cheer squad during the 2017 football season but have since been released, accuse Gary of intimidating and harassing language toward the cheerleaders.

They say they were cut from the team only after they sought improved working conditions from Gary.

Gary called one cheerleader a "chunky cheek," and said she had "belly jelly," during the 2017 season, according to the suit. The plaintiffs also accuse Gary of using duct tape to flatten a cheerleader's stomach prior to a game, then parading her in front of the other cheerleaders to show them how much "better it looked."

Gary singled out one cheerleader "of Hispanic decent," telling her she was not allowed to have straight hair, according to the lawsuit. If she didn't have curly hair, Gary threatened to "find another Latina girl to replace her," the complaint says.

The suit also alleges that team personnel did not do enough to ensure the cheerleaders' safety during events with the team's fans. The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status so that as many as 30 to 40 other former Texans cheerleaders could be eligible for inclusion in the proposed class action

"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," the Texans said in a statement obtained by KPRC. "We are constantly evaluating our procedures and will continue to make adjustments as needed to make the program enjoyable for everyone."

Former Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleaders settled a 2014 lawsuit over pay with the Bengals for about $255,000. The Raiders paid more than $1 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by two of that team's former cheerleaders over pay the same year. The Texans' cheerleaders suit does not specify how much in damages the former cheerleaders are seeking.

In January, syndicated radio host Margery Eaton said it was time to rethink cheerleaders' place in the sport of football in the framework of the #MeToo movement.