HOUSTON – A former Houston Texans cheerleader filed a class action lawsuit against the team and coaching staff after allegations that she was overworked, underpaid and body shamed.
Paige said that she dreamed of becoming a cheerleader since she was a little girl, but the experience was not what she signed up for.
"On the field I had so much fun cheering for my city but the second I walked into that ... it changed," Paige said. "We didn’t sign up to be bullied and harassed and demeaned."
Paige and her former teammate, Jackie, told KPRC that they experienced harassment, cyberbulliyng and verbal abuse at the hands of their cheer coach, Altovise Gary, and other staff members.
"It was like walking on egg shells," Jackie said. "It was made well known that you are replaceable."
In the lawsuit, the cheerleader coach is accused of telling a cheerleader she had "belly jelly" and she was a "chunky cheek." The coach also is accused of duct taping a cheerleader's "stomach skin underneath her shorts," then showing the rest of the cheerleading squad how much "better it looks."
Several cheerleaders were physically assaulted by fans, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit claims the cheerleaders were required to work more than 40 hours a week and were not compensated.
"I know what I got into, which was a part time job," Paige said. "But when our coach tells us this is ‘a part time jobs (sic) with full time hours’ that’s where the issues come in."
In response, the Houston Texans sent KPRC this statement:
"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."
Paige is asking for back pay equal to the amount of unpaid compensation during their employment period as well as sweeping changes to the program.
"We need a new coach, we need a new cheer staff to make the environment better for everybody," she said.
Bruse Loyd, the attorney for the plaintiff,said he has been contacted by five former cheerleaders since the lawsuit was filed.