Texans cheerleading coach resigns amid body-shaming lawsuit

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Former Texans cheerleaders Hannah Turnbow (left) and Angelina Rose (centre) with attorney Gloria Allred (right)

A longtime cheerleading director and coach in Texas has resigned amid lawsuits alleging body shaming and harassment at work.

Houston Texans football team's cheer coach Altovise Gary resigned on Tuesday. She was named in a federal lawsuit earlier this summer.

Among several bullying claims, one cheerleader says Ms Gary duct-taped her body because she was "skinny-fat".

The case - one of two against the Texans team - is now under arbitration.

A spokeswoman told the New York Times Ms Gary quit for personal reasons.

Ms Gary herself has not commented on the matter.

Ms Gary worked with the Houston Texans National Football League (NFL) team for 17 years. The team confirmed her departure on Tuesday but did not offer details, local media report.

In the lawsuit naming Ms Gary, she is accused of telling one cheerleader she was a "chunky cheek" and had "belly jelly", KHOU 11 reported.

Another cheerleader, Angelina Rosa, alleges Ms Gary took her aside to duct tape her stomach, then showed the other girls how much "better" it looked.

Ms Gary later asked her whether she needed the duct tape again at a different practice session.

"I felt humiliated and ashamed of my own body," Ms Rosa said in a statement after the lawsuit was filed in June. "I developed very unhealthy eating habits just to maintain the 'image' demanded for me."

Ms Gary is also alleged to have told a Hispanic cheerleader she had to curl her hair, and if she did not, Ms Gary would "find another Latina girl to replace her".

However, other former cheerleaders have come forward to defend Ms Gary.

In an interview with KHOU, former cheer captain Samantha Castaneda said Ms Gary "always celebrated being a woman and having those curves".

Another ex-cheerleader said: "We had all different shapes and sizes but the bottom line at the end of the day, from the fitness trainers to Coach Alto, they all wanted us to be healthy."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Attorney Gloria Allred (centre) holding a letter to the NFL on behalf of Texans cheerleaders earlier this summer

The Texans team has seen two federal lawsuits filed by cheerleaders, both filed by women's rights lawyer Gloria Allred.

The first suit, alleging harassment over weight and ethnicity, named Ms Gary as a defendant.

The second suit accused the Texans of failing to pay fair wages to cheerleaders while subjecting them to unsafe conditions and is also being handled by an arbitrator.

In response to Ms Allred's June letter to the NFL on behalf of the Texans cheerleaders, an attorney for the organisation said that "the NFL agrees that cheerleaders, like all other employees of the clubs, have the right to work in a safe, positive and respectful environment, free from harassment and discrimination and without fear of retaliation".

However, the attorney noted that the NFL itself "does not employ cheerleaders...nor does it dictate whether clubs have or do not have cheerleaders, nor any aspect of their cheerleader programmes".

Earlier this year, the New Orleans Saints NFL team was accused of having different rules for cheerleaders - who are all women - and male football players.

Many NFL teams, including the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and Washington Redskins, have faced similar allegations of discrimination and harassment from former cheerleaders.