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Houston Texans cheerleaders underpaid and verbally abused, lawsuit claims

Houston Texans cheerleaders wear pink boots for cancer awareness before an NFL football game between the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Houston.

David J. Phillip/AP

A former cheerleader for the Houston Texans has filed a lawsuit against the team and Altovise Gary, cheerleading coach and director, according to several reports. The federal lawsuit, filed on Monday in Federal District Court in Houston, alleges that cheerleaders did not receive fair pay and were subject to verbal harassment.

The lawsuit is described as "primarily a collective action to recover compensation for hours worked but not recorded or paid ('off-the-clock work'), failure to pay minimum wage and failure to pay overtime compensation," according to case documents published by the Houston Chronicle.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff is named as P.G.G. She worked as a cheerleader for the Texans from April 12, 2017, to April 13 this year, ESPN reported.   

The lawsuit claims the plaintiff "was to be paid $7.25 for each hour spent providing services as a Houston Texans Cheerleader," and says that while she was compensated for some of her time, she was "consistently" not paid for "required activities" including time dedicated to communicating on social media, spray tan and gym requirements, and "hundreds of hours spent traveling to and from events around the state."

The suit also claims that cheerleaders were subject to verbal abuse related to their physical appearances, including a case in which the coach allegedly told a cheerleader she had "belly jelly." And it claims that no action was taken, to cheerleaders' knowledge, to protect cheerleaders after several of them reported physical assault by fans. 

A Texans spokeswoman said that hundreds of women had enjoyed participating in the cheerleading program and that the team was proud of it, The New York Times reported. "We are constantly evaluating our procedures and will continue to make adjustments as needed to make the program enjoyable for everyone," spokeswoman Amy Palcic said in a statement.

The plaintiff wants the case to be certified as a class-action suit. Her lawyer said four other cheerleaders asked him if they could join and that two others are standing by to participate as plaintiffs, The Times reported.

The lawsuit marks the latest case in a series of recent reports related to treatment of cheerleaders. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that in 2013, when the Washington Redskins took their cheerleaders to Costa Rica for a photo shoot, some cheerleaders said they were told to pose topless, and others only wore body paint, even though the calendar would not show nudity. The team also invited spectators. 

In March, a former New Orleans Saints cheerleader filed a discrimination complaint against the NFL team with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Bailey Davis' case was also detailed in a New York Times article, which said she was fired after posting a photo of herself to her private Instagram account. It showed her in an outfit that the Saints said violated team rules against its cheerleaders appearing nude, seminude or in lingerie. 

The Times also says the team was looking into whether she attended a party attended by Saints players -- a rule violation Davis denies. Davis' EEOC complaint stated the team has two sets of rules: one for the cheerleaders, who are all women; another, for the players.