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Former Houston Texans cheerleaders say they were bullied, body-shamed and underpaid

Four former Houston Texans cheerleaders say they were called names like "jelly belly" and not paid for appearances they made for the team.
/ Source: TODAY

A group of former Houston Texans cheerleaders detailed claims on TODAY Monday that they were underpaid, bullied and not adequately protected against unruly fans during their time with the team.

Former Texans cheerleaders Hannah Turnbow, Ainsley Parish, Ashley Rodriguez, Kelly Neuner and Morgan Weiderhold filed a lawsuit in federal court in Houston against the team on Friday.

"It's very, very uncomfortable on a daily basis,'' Parish told Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb. "They body-shame you to your face. They are extremely bullying tactics."

"They instill this fear in you that they hold your entire success and opportunity in their hands," she said.

Four of the five cheerleaders involved in the lawsuit appeared on TODAY with lawyer Gloria Allred, revealing they were called things like "skinny fat" and "jelly belly" by team officials.

Asked why they took the job if they knew it paid only $7.25 per hour, Turnbow spoke about the opportunity to do good in the community.

"They make it seem like it's just such a dream on their social medias," she said. "You don't sign up for something and think it's gonna become what it was."

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Allred added that the salary wasn't made clear until after the girls were selected from a pool of thousands of others who tried out.

"They're not paid for many of their practices, and they are not reimbursed for many of their expenses, so they're being cheated out of that minimum wage," she said.

Turnbow also described an encounter in which a fan put his hands on her while she was in the stands for a prize giveaway.

"By the time he got to me, he put his hands between my collarbone and shoulder and pulled me down a stair,'' she said. "I told my alumni that was with me and nothing was done. We went straight to the next place and did another appearance."

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The Texans stopped having cheerleaders go into the stands for giveaways after the incident involving Turnbow.

The cheerleaders also claimed they weren't paid for hours they worked at events on behalf of the team.

"I didn't know necessarily what they were doing was illegal as far as not paying us for certain things,'' Neuner said. "They kind of take a little bit of advantage of us because we're young and we're women to just accept that there's certain things that we have to pay out of pocket and not be reimbursed for."

"We are proud of the cheerleader program and have had hundreds of women participate and enjoy their experience while making a positive impact in the local community," the Texans said in a statement to NBC News. "We are constantly evaluating our procedures and will continue to make adjustments as needed to make the program enjoyable for everyone."

The five women are the latest NFL cheerleaders to take legal action against the league.

A former Miami Dolphins cheerleader filed a complaint against the team and the NFL in April claiming she was discriminated against because of her religious beliefs and her virginity.

A former New Orleans Saints cheerleader filed a federal discrimination complaint against the team in March after she was fired from the squad over a photo she posted to her private Instagram account.

In May a group of Redskins cheerleaders told The New York Times they were forced to pose topless with men present and hang out with wealthy sponsors during a 2013 photo shoot in Costa Rica. Two of their teammates later told TODAY the allegations were not true.

Last year a group of 90 former Oakland Raiders cheerleaders ended a three-year legal battle when they were paid a $1.2 million settlement as part of a class-action lawsuit to get back pay after claiming the team paid them less than minimum wage.

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.