Twin cheerleaders accused their former coach Monday of sexual abuse at the gyms where he worked with them.
Hannah and Jessica Gerlacher are 22 now, but said they were 15 when the abuse began at the hands of coach Jason McCartney, who is also known as Jay.
Their lawsuit said they were abused at both the Plano and Frisco locations of Cheer Athletics.
Hannah Gerlacher said she and her sister decided to speak about their experience in hope of getting better protection for other young people in the future.
“We had no reason to suspect our coach. We were children and we were told he would take us to the next level in the sport we loved,” she said.
They did excel, but their attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel said the abuse began when Hannah was recovering from an injury, similar to what has been alleged in gymnastics.
“And some of the common threads of how those women were not protected and how coaches and individuals in high levels of their sport failed to protect them are exactly similar in this case,” Tuegel said.
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The lawsuit and the website for the Cheer Athletics Austin location said McCartney is now a coach there.
McCartney’s page on the Austin website said he has been in the cheer industry for 27 years.
"I want to be able to create a place that provides opportunity, growth, positivity, and experiences. A safe place for young people to authentically be themselves. A place without judgment or fear, a home away from home," McCartney’s post said.
The lawsuit said the twins’ experience with McCartney was not safe. Also sued in addition to McCartney were the Plano and Frisco Cheer Athletics locations, Cheer Athletics Holdings and United States All Star Federation (USASF), an entity that administers cheer organizations.
“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, another Gerlacher attorney.
The lawyers claimed complaints were filed with USASF, but no action was taken so criminal complaints were filed and criminal investigations are pending they said.
Plano and Frisco police officials said no criminal charges have been filed.
“In sharing our story, we hope to help other survivors of sexual abuse find the strength to speak up and heal,” Hannah Gerlacher said.
Their lawsuit mentions over $10 million in damages, but Hannah Gerlacher said their main goal is change and accountability.
Jody Melton, a representative of Cheer Athletics, replied with an email Monday night to a request for comment. Here are portions of the statement.
"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. In this instance, the Gerlachers never made Cheer Athletics aware of their allegations against Mr. McCartney during their years as athletes or in the nearly six years since they left the program.," the statement said.
Melton went on to say Cheer Athletics was contacted by USASF in September 2020 about an anonymous complaint against McCartney that was investigated, but the complaint could not be verified. She said McCartney has received several background checks and regular training to prevent sexual abuse. No action against McCartney was mentioned in the Cheer Athletics e-mail.
"Cheer Athletics will continue its investigation into the Gerlachers’ allegations as more information is provided, and will vigorously defend itself to the extent any such claims are found to be without merit. Of course, Cheer Athletics also stands firm in its policy to take swift action in the event that evidence of a violation of law or company policy is discovered," the Cheer Athletics statement said.
USASF sent NBC 5 a statement late Monday afternoon, saying:
"USASF, the not-for-profit membership organization for competitive cheer and dance in the U.S., is committed to the safety of our 140,000+ athlete members. Our athlete safety practices and policies are purposefully aligned with SafeSport best practices, and we continuously look for ways to improve athlete protection. We have implemented more stringent safety reporting and educational policies for all members, including athletes, parents, gym owners, coaches and event producers. 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. USASF treats reports received about allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment as confidential, and we do not comment on litigation."
Jason McCartney did not respond to a request for comment left by voice mail Monday at the Austin Cheer Athletics location.