A group of former cheerleaders for the Houston Texans have filed two employment lawsuits in the past two weeks. The first was filed as a potential class action against the National Football League and alleges that Texans cheerleaders are not fairly compensated or paid overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act. The second suit makes the same claim against the Texans but adds that the women were subjected to a hostile work environment and physical assaults by both the cheerleading coach and Texans fans.
"We were harassed, we were bullied and we were body-shamed for $7.25 an hour," said one plaintiff.
The lawsuit alleges that the Texans failed to provide security sufficient to prevent fan assaults. The suit claims that the cheerleaders were subjected to fan assaults on an ongoing basis, especially when they were paraded through the stadium. They were given a "safe word," "toro," which they could use to indicate they did not feel safe, but that was insufficient to prevent the assaults.
Worse yet, when one cheerleader was assaulted, the cheerleading coach simply told the injured, deeply shaken woman to "deal with it and move on."
The cheerleading coach is also described in the suit as having herself cyberbullied, body-shamed and physically assaulted the women. This happened so often that the cheerleaders lived in constant anxiety over who would be assaulted next.
Finally, the suit against the Texans claims that the cheerleaders were frequently reminded that they were replaceable and that they were reprimanded if they complained.
Both the suit against the Texans and the class action against the NFL claim that the cheerleaders were denied fair compensation for the hours they worked and for the use of their images on promotional materials. When all their required hours are totaled, the women allegedly made mere pennies per hour.
By law, employers are required to provide employees with a workplace that is reasonably free from discrimination, harassment and assault. This legal duty extends to protecting employees from wrongdoing perpetrated by customers and fans.
Naturally, employers must also compensate their employees as required by the FLSA. Generally, that means paying either the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher; compensating workers for all hours they work; and paying the overtime premium rate of 1-1/2 times their average rate for all hours worked past 40 in a single workweek.
If your employer has not paid you as required by the FLSA or has failed to provide a workplace that is reasonably free from discrimination, harassment and assault, you should contact an employment law attorney. A lawyer can determine if you have a legitimate claim and help you navigate any potential issues with pursuing your claim.