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Texans move to dismiss one cheerleader lawsuit

Standard stuff, I presume.

Attorneys for the Houston Texans have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the team by five former cheerleaders or to delay proceedings while the former cheerleaders’ complaints are submitted to arbitration.

Team attorneys, in a motion filed with U.S. District Judge David Hitner, cite several flaws in what they describe as a “frivolous” lawsuit filed by former cheerleaders Hannah Turnbow, Ainsley Parish, Morgan Wiederhold, Ashley Rodriguez and Kelly Neuner.

The suit is one of two filed last month by former Texans cheerleaders, complaining of wage violations, breach of contract, negligence and other issues.

Among the lawsuit’s flaws, the Texans say, is that former cheerleaders acted improperly by filing legal action despite signing contracts that require mandatory arbitration for disputes. If the suit is not dismissed, the team says, it at least should be stayed pending arbitration.

[…]

The former cheerleaders also “want to rewrite history,” the team says, by complaining about their treatment after several posted complimentary messages on social media about their association with the team.

“Above all, the plaintiffs want to ignore the law, which dictates that their claims fail, whether in arbitration … or in this court,” lawyers add.

The standard cheerleader contract includes a clause in which both sides agree that the NFL commissioner will preside over binding arbitration to settle any disputes. The commissioner also has authority to refer the dispute to an outside arbitrator.

In a separate filing, attorneys for the team say that Neuner’s complaint against the team because she has not been a cheerleader since the summer of 2011 and that that her complaints fall outside the statute of limitations, which range from 300 days to four years, along with being “factually invalid.”

See here for the background. I’m not aware of any action with the other lawsuit, but my guess is that the team will have a similar response. For sure, the cheerleaders will want to keep this in a courtroom and away from an arbitrator. That’s all I’ve got, so we’ll see what happens.

They’re still trying to make XFL 2.0 happen

And who knows, maybe it will.

Oliver Luck, the former Oilers quarterback and Dynamo executive who has most recently worked at the NCAA, was named Tuesday as the commissioner of the relaunched XFL that World Wrestling Entertainment will launch in 2020.

Luck, the father of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, was announced as CEO and commissioner of the new eight-team league by WWE chairman Vince McMahon, the league’s founder.

“Football has always been a constant in my life and I’m excited about the unique opportunity to present America’s favorite sport to fans in a new way,” Luck said in a statement from the league. “The XFL will create first-class organizations that local cities across the country will be proud of.”

McMahon he and Luck “share the same vision and passion for reimagining the game of football. His experience as both an athlete and executive will ensure the long-term success of the XFL.”

See here for the background. Among many other things, Luck has served as president of NFL Europe, so he has real experience with this sort of thing. I still have my doubts that they’ll be able to get an eight-team league off the ground and on solid financial footing by 2020, but so far at least this is not an obvious farce. And while I said before that I probably wouldn’t watch a new XFL (as I hadn’t watched the original XFL), I’ve changed my mind. There is a scenario under which I will become an XFL fan, and that’s if they treat their cheerleaders better then the NFL does (not a high bar to clear, as we know). Have the teams hire their cheerleaders as employees, pay them a fair salary, institute real anti-harassmemt policies, don’t put ridiculous rules on them and only them about fraternizing with players, and I’m in. What do you say, Oliver? The Press and Texas Monthly have more.

More on the Texans’ cheerleader lawsuit

Here’s a story in Vanity Fair about the second lawsuit filed against the Houston Texans by a group of former cheerleaders, who allege wage theft and harassment, among other things. The tale is from the perspective of plaintiff Gabriella Davis, and much of it focuses on the lousy treatment she and her fellow cheerleaders got from the team and specifically its longtime cheerleading director, Altovise Gary. I encourage you to read all that, but I want to highlight the matters relating to money:

Davis said the cheerleaders were frequently reminded that they were replaceable: “We were told, ‘There’s another girl who will do it for free,’” she said.

But they practically did that themselves.

According to both Davis and a copy of the 2017-2018 Texans cheerleader contract, cheerleaders were making $7.25 per hour, the state’s minimum wage, or approximately $1,500 per season. The employment agreement stipulates that the cheerleaders are hired as part-time employees (by day, some were college students, lawyers, or worked in P.R.). But Davis, as well as her former teammates who are suing the Texans, argued that Gary warned them upfront that they would be “part-time employees with full-time hours.” Their time commitment included games, practices, and a required 50 team-sponsored promotional appearances during the season. The cheerleaders said they were not paid overtime for hours of work outside of cheering, including selling calendars and meeting fans after games, plus daily social-media requirements, which included tweeting from the official cheerleader handle and following hundreds of people on Twitter in order to boost the account’s following.

See here and here for the background. The “we can replace you with someone who’d do this for free” attitude is pervasive, and is right there in the comments on the Chron story about the more recent lawsuit. You want to talk about “economic anxiety”, I’m here to say there would be a whole lot less of it if people didn’t internalize that message. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would side with the multi-billion dollar entity that could easily afford to pay these women a salary that’s actually commensurate with the work they do and the value they add. I’m rooting for the courts to see it the same way, but ultimately what we need is better legislation to improve working life for all of us. Here are statements from the plaintiffs and a statement from the Texans on this case. I’m sure we have not seen the last of these in the league.

Second group of cheerleaders sues the Texans

Different group, same basic complaints.

Hannah Turnbow spent the 2017 NFL season wearing a bright smile and a Texans cheerleaders uniform, dancing on the field, waving pompons on the sideline, meeting fans in NRG Stadium suites and concourses and attending team-related functions as a Texans brand ambassador.

Friday, however, Turnbow was reduced briefly to tears as she described how she and four other former cheerleaders were underpaid, browbeaten, threatened and, in her case, attacked by a fan and told by team officials to “suck it up” when she complained.

Turnbow, who spent one season as a Texans cheerleader, is the lead plaintiff in the second lawsuit in two weeks that accuses the team of violating federal labor laws and minimum-wage regulations.

The suit was filed in Houston federal court by Houston attorney Kimberly Spurlock and by noted women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, who said she plans to deliver a letter stating the cheerleaders’ case Monday to the office of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York.

“We’re not arguing with the concept of whether there should be cheerleaders or not,” Allred said. “But we are asserting that if there are cheerleaders, they should not be exploited in their wages or in any of the terms of their working conditions.”

[…]

Dallas has long been the center of NFL cheerleader culture, since the Cowboys in the early 1970s adopted the dance team format that the Texans and other NFL teams use, and Androvett said the Cowboys would be a lesser product without the allure and marketing attraction that cheerleaders have provided for more than 40 years.

“Football fans have wives and daughters. Women are big consumers. They are a force to be reckoned with,” Androvett said. “Why wouldn’t you reach out to women and say if there’s a wrong, let’s right it. You can do that in a way that doesn’t incur legal liability.”

By not dealing with complaints by cheerleaders over pay and working conditions, the NFL also faces potential damage in the wake of the “#metoo” awareness movement of sexual assault and harassment.

“People will say it’s like being in Hollywood: there are things you buy into in exchange for all the opportunities that are presented to you,” he said. “But Hollywood is a great analogy. We all realize now that not everything goes.

“If I were the NFL, I would try to get in front of this and communicate that cheerleaders are part of the NFL experience and to treat them in a way that suggest you believe that.

Also, as franchises become more valuable in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that could lead to increased sports gambling, “it’s not a good optic for the NFL when you have a class of women who are trying to get paid based on $7.25 per hour,” Androvett added.

See here for more about the other lawsuit. It really is a matter of paying them a fair amount for their labor, and treating them with a sufficient level of respect. Frankly, the NFL could do a better job of that with their players, too, but at least they have the right to collectively bargain for those things. I’m rooting for the plaintiffs in both of these cases. Think Progress has more.

Former cheerleaders file lawsuit against Texans over pay

I’d been wondering if something like this was going to happen here.

Three former Texans cheerleaders sued the team and its cheerleading supervisor Tuesday, accusing the Texans of failing to pay minimum wage and overtime and accusing the cheer squad director of body-shaming and failing to act on complaints that cheerleaders were physically assaulted by fans.

The former cheerleaders, who were on the squad for the 2017 season, are seeking class action status, which would include all Texans cheerleaders for the last three years who also complain of similar treatment by the Texans and their cheerleader director, Altovise Gary.

The suit against the Texans and Gary, filed in Houston federal court, joins a growing list of legal actions in which former NFL cheerleaders complain about pay, safety issues and working conditions.

“I have been a season-ticket holder since 2002. My name is engraved on the glass outside NRG Stadium,” said former cheerleader Paige G., who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It was always a goal of mine to get on the team, and I thought this is so great that now I get to cheer for the team that I love.

“It was really unfortunate that we were treated with such disrespect.”

Paige G. claims in the lawsuit that while she was paid $7.25 per hour for a set number of hours each week, she did not receive overtime for team-imposed email monitoring and social media requirements and for other “off-the-clock” job-related duties, including gym workouts, spray tans before games and events and required attendance at other team functions and autograph sessions.

“One of the most famous quotes from (Gary) is that this was a part-time job with full-time hours,” she said. “We signed up for a part-time job that didn’t require more than 30 hours a week. If you’re going to make it full-time hours, make it a full-time job. I would be happy to do that.”

The suit also accuses Gary, described in the document as “Coach Alto,” of harassing and intimidating behavior and of cutting Paige G. and other cheerleaders from the squad in April after they sought improved working conditions.

Others may join in as plaintiffs, and they will seek class certification, assuming Neil Gorsuch hasn’t made that illegal. We have seen a number of lawsuits like this filed by other teams’ cheerleaders in recent years, some with truly appalling fact sets. Several teams have paid out settlements, and I suspect that is what will eventually happen here. Seems to me the right thing for the teams to do is to pay their cheerleaders a fair wage for their labor and to generally treat them with a minimum level of respect. But this is the NFL, and that’s not the way they do business, so off to the courts they go. I know who I’m cheering for.

Cheerleading is now a sport in Texas

This is a real thing.

Cheerleading will finally get its tryout from the University Interscholastic League.

After a hearty debate and a failed first vote, the UIL Legislative Council approved a one-year pilot program to hold a league-sanctioned cheerleading competition for the 2015-16 school year.

Crowning state champions in each of the state’s six classifications, the “Game Day Cheer” competition will be the first cheerleading event in the league’s history.

“As big as cheerleading is in Texas, I feel like a lot of people will gravitate to this,” Highland Park cheerleading coach Jason McMahan said. “Not only because it’s new, but also because it gives them an opportunity to showcase their athletes and their abilities vs. just their home crowd seeing them on the sidelines.”

[…]

Passage of the proposal wasn’t easy.

After squeaking through the UIL’s Standing Committee on Policy on Tuesday, the concept faced similar skepticism and criticism from many on the full council on Wednesday.

Normally, the league moves at a glacial level, with a proposal waiting six months between approval from a subcommittee to a final vote. The cheerleading concept, however, was fast-tracked — with league staff asking for its approval less than a day after moving out of committee, in an attempt to get the event launched for the upcoming school year.

Many of the 32-member council didn’t like the speed of that process, with only seven members — including Duncanville ISD Superintendent Alfred Ray and Katy ISD’s Alton Frailey — initially voting in favor of the pilot program.

“The main reason that I can support this is that we can keep our kids involved and we can keep them safe,” said Frailey, the former DeSoto superintendent.

Richardson ISD Superintendent Kay Waggoner originally voted against the proposal, concerned with the readiness of districts to pay for additional expenses and provide oversight to another activity.

Only when implementation of the pilot was pushed back to the 2015-16 school year did the program gain approval.

“I think the folks around this table were concerned on how it would affect their budget on such short notice, and how it might affect their student body because of other activities that they’ve signed up for,” Breithaupt said. “To give more detail as we move forward, so that they can share it with people they represent, I think that’s fair.”

An earlier story has some of the background on this.

“It’s a controversial topic — it just is,” UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said. “I’m just interested in doing what’s best for an activity that’s kind of been ignored, to be honest with you. Give them a state championship for all the things that they do.”

Game Day Cheer would differ from a competitive cheerleading event, Breithaupt said. The elements of the UIL contest would mimick what cheerleaders do during a pep rally or on the sidelines, without the high-flying tosses and difficult gymnastics found in competitive cheer.

In a 2012-13 National Federation of State High School Associations survey, 32 states held girls’ “competitive spirit squad” competitions, with 116,508 students participating nationwide, the ninth-most popular girls’ athletic activity.

[…]

Bringing cheerleading under the umbrella of the UIL has gained momentum over the last 18 months. In a letter to the UIL in January 2012, the Texas Medical Association asked the league for oversight of cheerleading, saying it would “be a bold move to ensure we have a state system focused on injury prevention under consistent, evidence-based safety guidelines.” As a result, the league’s medical advisory committee recommended in April 2013 that cheerleading be included in the list of activities that abide by the UIL’s safety and health regulations.

A former football coach and athletic director, Breithaupt said his opinion evolved from that point.

“If we are going to make them comply with all the other standards, to me it just makes sense,” Breithaupt said. “It’d be like, for example, if we said, ‘OK, we don’t sanction lacrosse, but we are going to require you to follow all of our rules.’”

You may be shaking your head about this, but the UIL is just following the official recommendation of the American Medical Association.

The American Medical Association adopted a policy declaring cheerleading a sport at its annual meetings Monday, weighing in on a long-lasting debate with a solid reason in mind: giving cheerleading “sport” status at high schools across the country would make it safer by increasing training and safety measures to protect its participants.

Cheerleading, according to the AMA and other independent researchers, is the leader in catastrophic injuries in female athletes, and considering it a sport would help increase training and awareness among coaches, parents, and cheerleaders themselves, the AMA said.

“These girls are flipping 10, 20 feet in the air,” Dr. Samantha Rosman said at the meeting, according to the Associated Press. “We need to stand up for what is right for our patients and demand they get the same protection as their football colleagues.”

[…]

The American Academy of Pediatrics designated cheerleading a sport two years ago, and 35 states and Washington D.C. have declared it a sport at the high school level. The AMA policy means that it will push remaining states and sports bodies to adopt the designation.

You can now add Texas to the list of adopters. As that article above noted, concussions are a big issue in cheerleading, and unlike in other sports, the risk is even higher in practice than at games. One of the effects of the UIL declaring it a sport is that practices can now be regulated in the same way as other sports. Hopefully, that will help reduce the injury risk.