Five former NFL cheerleaders have filed a federal sex discrimination lawsuit against the Houston Texans, accusing the team of underpaying valuable employees and subjecting them to unsafe working conditions. The five plaintiffs—Hannah Turnbow, Ainsley Paris, Morgan Wiederhold, Ashley Rodriguez, and Kelly Neuner—are represented in part by Gloria Allred, who spoke at a press conference in Houston last week. “Stop penny-pinching,” Allred said of the Texans.
This is the second such federal lawsuit against the Texans; in May, another former cheerleader (identified by her initials) filed a suit that also accuses the Texans of underpaying its cheer team and accuses the cheer team’s director, Coach Altovise Gary, of verbally abusing them. One other former Texans cheerleader, Gabriella Davis, has suggested that NFL cheer teams consider unionizing to resolve the labor issues they are facing in the workplace. Davis, who spoke to Vanity Fair about her experience working for the Texans, said:
“This environment is toxic and it’s dangerous. The fact that we let it go on for so long... ” Davis trailed off. “It’s time now to do something about it, whether it is creating a union or maybe spending $5,000 on having it staffed to make sure all the regulations are being followed and everyone’s happy in that scenario. Because that’s what women deserve.”
Davis, who tried out for joined the Texans team after cheering in college at Texas State University, also echoed the allegations made in her colleagues’ lawsuit.
Cheerleaders are often classified as independent contractors in the NFL, despite being required to spend several hours a week training, perform at games, travel for promotional events, and are considered an integral part of NFL teams’ brands—so much so that cheerleaders have insane social media rules. The plaintiff who filed the lawsuit last month against the Texans said, “I’ll repeat what Coach Alto said to us: ‘Ladies, this is a part-time job with full-time hours.’”
Some NFL cheer teams have fought for and won recognition as full-time employees, but one can see the appeal of unionization: The Texans cheer team was allegedly paid $7.25 an hour and according to Davis, constantly reminded that they would be easy to replace. She told Vanity Fair, “We were told, ‘There’s another girl who will do it for free.’”
Jezebel has reached out to Davis for further comment and will update if we hear back.