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Texans Cheerleader coach resigns after lawsuits allege bullying, body-shaming

Powerhouse attorney Gloria Allred represented five former cheerleaders who sued the team, alleging they were bullied and forced to work in a hostile environment.

HOUSTON – The Houston Texans longtime cheerleaders coach has resigned, the team confirms.

In two lawsuits filed by some former cheerleaders, Coach Alto Gary had been accused of humiliating some cheerleaders by body-shaming them and even forcing one to duct tape her body because she was "skinny-fat."

In the first federal lawsuit, three former cheerleaders claimed they were subjected to harassment – including about their weight and ethnic background – by the team’s cheerleading director.

They also claim the director took no action after they reported to have been “physically assaulted by fans.”

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Gary was the only defendant associated with the team named in the lawsuit.

Here is a sample of some of the allegations against her:

  • During the 2017 football season, Coach Alto told one Cheerleader that she had “belly jelly” and she was a “chunky cheek.”
  • Before one game during the 2017 football season, Coach Alto took a cheerleader to a secluded area of the stadium and duct taped her stomach skin underneath her shorts. Coach Alto then brought that cheerleader in front of the rest of the squad and showed them how much “better it looks.” At the next practice Coach Alto pulled out a roll of duct tape and asked said cheerleader if she needed it.
  • “Coach Alto walked up to a cheerleader and poked her face asking her if she had gained her ‘freshman 15’ saying she looked like she ‘ate a plate of salt,’ ” the lawsuit alleged.
  • Alto also allegedly told a Hispanic cheerleader she couldn’t have straight hair and if she didn’t curl it, Alto said she would “find another Latina girl to replace her.”
  • After one game during the 2017 football season, Coach Alto entered into the cheerleader’s locker room wielding scissors and slashing hundreds of balloons, which spelled out “HTC” (Houston Texans Cheerleaders), merely because one cheerleader missed a step during a dance.

Powerhouse attorney Gloria Allred represented five other former cheerleaders who sued the team, alleging they were bullied and forced to work in a hostile environment. They also complained they were only paid minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and were often not paid for all of the hours they worked.

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"I believe that our lawsuit and the voices of our brave clients have made an important impact on the Houston Texans. As a result of their courage, there appears to be an important change taking place in the staff," Alled said Tuesday. "However, until there is justice for the cheerleaders by paying them fairly and compensating them by paying them the wages that they are due, we will continue our fight to win them the respect and dignity to which they are entitled and which is long overdue."

The women said they were harassed and intimidated, forced to fear that they could be cut from the team for the slightest infraction, and that the organization did not put them first.

"As an example of when I was not protected. I was attacked by a fan at a game,” Hannah Turnbow, a former cheerleader, said. “My attacker was not approached. I was told to just suck it up.”

That lawsuit was later dropped after the cheerleaders agreed to arbitration.

But in an interview with KHOU 11 News anchor Mia Gradney, another group of former cheerleaders defended the Texans and HTC coach Alto Gary.

They said they were treated with respect and the focus was on healthy bodies -- not skinny bodies.

"All of the Texans organization wanted all of the cheerleaders to be healthy," Former Cheerleader Madison Lee said.

The Texans released a statement in response to the initial lawsuit saying they do not tolerate mistreatment of their employees, and they look forward to vigorously defending themselves against the allegations.

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