Twin cheerleaders from Texas have filed a $10million lawsuit, accusing their former coach of sexually abusing them beginning when they were 15 years old.
Jessica and Hannah Gerlacher, now aged 22, held a press conference on Monday alongside their attorneys to announce their civil complaint against coach Jason ‘Jay’ McCartney, Cheer Athletics and the US All-Star Cheer Federation, which is the governing body of the sport.
Cheer Athletics, a chain of gyms, made national headlines last year after one of its athletes, Jerry Harris, the breakout star of the Netflix hit docu-series Cheer, was accused of soliciting sexually explicit photos and sex from minors.
Cheerleading stars Hannah and Jessica Gerlacher (left) have filed a lawsuit against their former coach, Jason ‘Jay’ McCartney (right), accusing him of sexual abuse
The twins and their attorneys held a press conference on Monday to announce their lawsuit
The Gerlachers allege that McCartney, who coached them at the Plano and Frisco locations of Cheer Athletics, would grope their breasts, crotches and buttocks under the guise of ‘spotting’ them.
A ‘spotter’ in gymnastics is a trainer who stands next to an athlete and watches them during a high-risk tumbling routine to ensure they do not get hurt. In cheerleading, spotters help balance stunts and are there to catch someone if they fall.
According to the lawsuit, McCartney also would push his erection against the twins while pretending to ‘spot’ them, reported The Dallas Morning News.
‘What happened to Hannah and Jessica as minors is inexcusable. They’ve had to deal with a lot of pain and trauma that they’ve had to hide,’ said Andrew Dao, one of the cheerleaders’ attorneys, during Monday’s press conference.
Jessica and Hannah, who have a large following on social media and are still involved in the sport of cheerleading as coaches, said that they have decided to speak out about their alleged sexual abuse after drawing inspiration from female gymnasts, including Olympic champion Simone Biles, who had come out to accuse former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault.
Nassar is now serving hundreds of years in prison after pleading guilty to a slew of federal and state charges.
‘The silence surrounding abusive coaches, and the failures of gyms like Cheer Athletics and USASF to protect minor athletes has to stop,’ the Gerlachers, flanked by their attorneys, said in a joint statement. ‘We have gained strength from watching women in gymnastics speak out about abuse, and we are here to stop a similar culture in the sport of cheerleading.’
The complaint alleges that McCartney began abusing Gerlachers in 2015, after Hannah, aged 15, suffered a traumatic brain injury during a tumbling practice (pictured around that time)
McCartney (not pictured) is accused of groping the sisters’ breasts, crotches and buttocks, and pushing his erection against them under the guise of ‘spotting’ them, the lawsuit claims
The lawsuit alleges that the twins signed up for private lessons with McCartney because he promised to help them reach the highest level in the sport of cheerleading.
According to the complaint, the sexual abuse began in 2015 after Hannah suffered a traumatic brain injury during a tumbling practice at Cheer Athletics Plano.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel said Hannah’s vulnerability after the injury, combined with her young age, ‘allowed McCartney to abuse her even more severely’ than her sister.
The complaint alleges that the male coach instructed Hannah to sit on his lap, where he fondled the girl’s genitals.
In one instance, McCartney allegedly forced Hannah into a room, grabbed her by the neck and pressed her against a cabinet.
The complaint states that because Jessica and Hannah viewed McCartney as a figure of authority, they were ‘uncertain and fearful’ to report his behavior for years.
The twins said they signed up for private lessons with McCartney because he promised to help them reach the highest level in the sport. The Gerlachers are pictured with their medals
Jessica and Hannah are still involved in the sport of cheerleading as coaches and have a large following on Instagram
A few months ago, the Gerlachers filed an anonymous complaint on the US All-Star Cheer Federation’s website, accusing their former coach of sexual misconduct, but they said no action was taken.
‘We decided to report to our sport, but nobody contacted us, nothing was acknowledged and nothing was done about it,’ Hannah said.
According to the complaint, officials at USASF failed to suspend McCartney, or notify his students’ parents, reported Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
McCartney is listed as a co-owner of Cheer Athletics Austin on the gym’s website. According to his online profile, McCartney is married and has been coaching cheerleaders for 27 years.
‘I want to be able to create a place that provides opportunity, growth, positivity, and experiences,’ he wrote. ‘A safe place for young people to authentically be themselves. A place without judgement or fear, a home away from home. Changing lives one 8 count at a time.’
McCartney has not commented on the Gerlachers’ lawsuit.
A spokesperson for Cheer Athletics claimed in a statement to NBC DFW that Jessica and Hannah never complained about McCartney during their time as athletes with the organization, or in the years since.
‘Cheer Athletics remains steadfast in its commitment to athlete safety, including any improper contact between athletes and coaches and has an established track record of taking swift action to address such allegations, including making mandatory reports to law enforcement,’ representative Jody Melton stated.
The spokesperson noted that Cheer Athletics investigated McCartney last year after being contacted by the US All-Star Cheer Federation about an anonymous complaint but could not substantiate the allegations against the coach, who has passed multiple background checks and received regular training on sexual abuse prevention.
The US All-Star Cheer Federal responded to the lawsuit by highlighting its commitment to the safety of its more than 140,000 athletes.
‘We deplore any instance of sexual misconduct or harassment of our members, and we have taken significant steps to respond to reports of misconduct and to make it clear that there is no place for sexual predators in the cheer and dance community,’ the statement read.
The Gerlacher twins’ lawsuit alleges sexual assault, negligence, negligent hiring, intentional infliction of emotional distress and gross negligence.
The lawsuit seeks more than $10million in damages from the defendants, but the Gerlachers say their real objective is to hold McCartney accountable and inspire other athletes like them to break their silence on abuse.
‘In sharing our story, we hope to help other survivors of sexual abuse find the strength to speak up and heal,’ Hannah said.