Former Texans cheerleaders file lawsuit alleging harassment and physical assault

Another NFL team is about to become embroiled in another cheerleading scandal. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that three former Houston Texans cheerleaders filed a class-action lawsuit against the team and Alto Gary, the team’s director of cheerleading. They’re alleging that they were forced to work without pay and exposed to verbal harassment and physical assault.

The allegations

While the suit alleges that all cheerleaders had to work hours for which they were not paid, some cheerleaders were allegedly verbally abused by Gary. According to the suit, cheerleaders were pressured to lose weight and change other aspects of their physical appearance to suit Gary. USA Today has these details from the lawsuit itself:

“Coach Alto walked up to a cheerleader and poked her face asking her if she had gained her ‘freshman 15’ saying she looked like she ‘ate a plate of salt,’ ” the lawsuit alleged.

Alto also allegedly told a Hispanic cheerleader she couldn’t have straight hair and if she didn’t curl it, Alto said she would “find another Latina girl to replace her.”

In addition to the harassment by Gary, the lawsuit also accuses the team of ignoring complaints from cheerleaders who were physically assaulted by fans. Cheerleaders were required to stand in the crowd for a promotional campaign, and the team did nothing to insure their safety even after the cheerleaders reported the behavior.

The evolution of NFL cheerleader uniforms
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The evolution of NFL cheerleader uniforms

The main plaintiff wants to stand up for her friends

While three former Texans cheerleaders filed the suit, the only one named is Paige G., who goes by P.G.G. in the filing. She doesn’t want to reveal her full name because she’s afraid that family members in the business might be negatively affected.

Paige told the Post that while she, like all Texans cheerleaders, was not paid for all the hours she was required to work, she never personally experienced some of the behavior in the lawsuit. She was never pressured to lose weight or change her appearance and she was never assaulted by fans. However, she witnessed some of those acts, and had others reported to her by fellow cheerleaders. That’s why she felt she needed to become part of the lawsuit.

“I feel like it’s part of my duty as a human being to protect my friends,” Paige G. said. “I want to stand up people too afraid to stand up for themselves.”

While Paige is currently the only named plaintiff in the lawsuit, attorney Bruse Loyd told USA Today that he expects more will come forward.

It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last

If the story of Paige and her fellow cheerleaders sounds familiar, it’s because it’s at least the fourth such story to come to light this year, either through exposé or lawsuit. But you wouldn’t be able to tell from the statement released by the Texans’ vice president of communication, Amy Palcic:

“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.”

That statement makes it seem like Paige only complained about ill-fitting uniforms and not verbal abuse from the cheerleader coach or being required to work without pay. But it’s on par with how a number of NFL teams treat their cheerleading squads: as disposable, non-human props.

If anyone is looking for proof, the lawsuits and complaints are starting to pile up at the NFL’s doorstep. In March, former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In April, former Miami Dolphins cheerleader Kristan Ann Ware filed a lawsuit against the Dolphins and the NFL, alleging discrimination due to her religion and gender. And in May, the New York Times published a stunning story about a 2013 trip the Washington Redskins cheerleaders took to Costa Rica for a calendar photo shoot. The Times alleged that cheerleaders were forced to be topless and serve as escorts for sponsors. 

Washington Redskins cheerleaders through the years
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Washington Redskins cheerleaders through the years
30 Sep 1990: A close up of a Washington Redskins Cheerleader as she smiles during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at the RFK Stadium in Wasington, D.C.. The Redskins defeated the Colts 31-16. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger/Allsport
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 26: The Washington Redskins cheerleaders cheer during a timeout against the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI at the Metrodome on January 26, 1992 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Redskins defeated the Bills 37-24. (Photo by Gin Ellis/Getty Images)
5 Oct 2000: A view of some Phoenix Cardinals cheerleaders performing during the game against theWashington Redskins at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Redskins 16-15.Mandatory Credit: Jon Ferrey /Allsport
06 Jan 2002: Washington Redskins cheerleader perfoms during the game at Fed Ex Field in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins won 20-17. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty images
The Washington Redskins Cheerleaders, known as the Redskinetts, kick off their home opener against the Arizona Cardinals 08 September 2002 at FedEx Field in Landover, MD. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 31: Washington Redskins cheerleaders perform their routine during the game against the Green Bay Packers at FedEx Field on October 31, 2004 in Landover, Maryland. The Packers defeated the Redskins 28-14. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Cheerleader in action, Washington Redskins against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, October 23, 2005, at FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland. The Redskins won 52-17. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
Washington Redskins cheerleaders perform during game against the Oakland Raiders at FedExField in Landover, Md. on Sunday, November 20, 2005. (Photo by Kirby Lee/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 11: Washington Redskins Cheerleaders stand in line during the National Anthem before taking on the Minnesota Vikings on the first Monday Night Football game of the season on September 11, 2006 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 9: The Washington Redskins cheerleaders cheer before the game against the Miami Dolphins at FedExField on September 9, 2007 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins defeated the Dolphins 16-13. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
CANTON, OH - AUGUST 3: A cheerleader of the Washington Redskins entertains during play against the Indianapolis Colts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on August 3, 2008 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 21: The cheerleaders for the Washington Redskins come onto the field for introductions before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at FedExField on September 21, 2008 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins defeated the Cardinals 24-17. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 18: Washington Redskins cheerleaders perform during a game against the Kansas City Chiefs October 18, 2009 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.The Chiefs won the game 14-6. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
LANDOVER - SEPTEMBER 19: Cheerleaders for the Washington Redskins cheer against the Houston Texans at FedExField on September 19, 2010 in Landover, Maryland. The Texans defeated the Redskins 30-27 in overtime. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 20: Members of the Washington Redskins cheerleaders perform during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field on November 20, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: A cheerleader for the Washington Redskins cheers against the Cincinnati Bengals at FedExField on September 23, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. The Bengals defeated the Redskins 38-31. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 27: Members of the Denver Broncos Cheerleaders perform during the game against the Washington Redskins at Sports Authority Field on October 27, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 20: A Washington Redskins cheerleader performs during a game between the St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins at FedExField on September 20, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
02 October 2016: A Washington Redskins cheerleader performs at FedEx Field, in Landover, MD. where the Washington Redskins defeated the Cleveland Browns, 31-20. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - DECEMBER 08: Redskins cheerleaders attend the MGM National Harbor Grand Opening Gala on December 8, 2016 in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for MGM National Harbor)
LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 17: Washington Redskins cheerleaders in action during a match between the Washington Redskins and the Arizona Cardinals on December 17, 2017, at FedExField in Landover, MD. (Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

NFL teams may not take the complaints of the cheerleaders, or the cheerleaders themselves, very seriously, but not all of the cheerleaders are willing to be silent about how teams treat and mistreat them anymore.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at or follow her on Twitter! Follow @lizroscher

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