“We were harassed, we were bullied and we were body-shamed for $7.25 an hour,” a former Houston Texans cheerleader told reporters.
She and four other former Texans cheerleaders have filed two federal lawsuits against the team and its cheerleading coach. The suits, one of which seeks to be certified as a class action, allege both a hostile work environment and violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The FLSA requires most employers to pay no less than the federal minimum wage for all hours worked, and also requires employees to receive 1-1/2 times their usual pay rate whenever they work more than 40 hours in a given workweek.
According to news reports, the Texans refuse to pay their cheerleaders for time that is mandatory for their jobs, including hours each week spent at the gym and time spent attending official team events. They are also denied overtime pay, according to the lawsuits, and they receive no remuneration for the use of their images on promotional materials.
The job of a Texans cheerleader includes essentially being on call 24/7, according to one plaintiff. The women are required to respond to an email from the cheerleading coach within 10 minutes. They must also sign thousands of promotional calendars and send constant updates on their official Twitter accounts both during the season and off-season.
“When each hour of the practices, games, appearances, travel time, preparation, and required social media marketing is accounted, the Houston Texans cheerleaders earn pennies for each hour worked,” reads one of the suits.
In addition, the women say the team fails to protect them adequately from a hostile work environment, which is perpetrated in part by the team’s cheerleading coach. The coach is accused not only of ridiculing cheerleaders about their weight and eating habits but also of bullying and even assaulting them. In one case, the coach duct-taped a woman’s stomach skin so she would appear thinner.
The harassment and assaults, however, were also perpetrated by fans. Federal law requires employers to provide a workplace that is reasonable safe and free from discrimination and harassment. The Texans, however, parade the cheerleaders through the crowd despite this having allegedly led to numerous fan assaults on the women.
Finally, the cheerleaders say they faced retaliation and, in one case, wrongful termination for complaining about allegedly illegal working conditions.
The Texans commented that they are proud of their cheerleader program but “continue to make adjustments” to the program.
Similar lawsuits claiming violations of the FLSA and other issues have been filed recently by cheerleaders for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the New York Jets, the Oakland Raiders and the Cincinnati Bengals.