Professional Cheerleaders Bring a Discrimination Case

Two professional cheerleaders in the NFL – Bailey Davis and Kristan Ann Ware – filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations alleging gender discrimination by the teams they worked for. The complaint stemmed from a January photo of Davis in a lace bodysuit that was posted on Instagram, an act for which she was fired. While similar rules do not apply to the male NFL players, female cheerleaders are constrained by the NFL regarding how they can represent themselves on social media, as a discrimination lawyer can explain.

Apparently, the NFL organization for which she was working at the time – the New Orleans Saints – found this post to be inappropriate and violative of its social media rules that are cheerleader-specific. The Saints found that wearing this outfit on Instagram broke their rules that do not allow female cheerleaders to appear nude, semi-nude, or in lingerie. There was also a rumor Davis was spending time socially with players, which was also against the rules, an act that she denies she did.

The main claim in their complaint is that they were discriminated against – in violation of employment laws – because NFL players can use social media and express themselves, while female cheerleaders cannot. Cheerleaders further have to prevent NFL players from following them on social media, in order to abide by the anti-fraternization policy in the NFL between cheerleaders and players. Players do not have limits on who can follow them on social media, like the rules the cheerleaders must follow. To the cheerleaders, these rules favor male players and keep women – as cheerleaders – at a disadvantage.

The NFL and the Saints contend they are compliant with harassment and discrimination laws and that Davis was not subjected to gender discrimination in this incident. The league has a personal conduct policy prohibiting unlawful discrimination. One legal issue with this case is that the rules are, according to the NFL, designed to protect women. However, sometimes even policies designed to protect certain workers can actually have a negative impact on them by restricting the employee and then, when they fail to abide by the rules, punishing them.

In sum, the cheerleaders claim that these policies are too aggressive and discriminate against women. More generally, cheerleaders have had to fight for many other employment issues, such as over minimum wage and overtime payments. This case, like many others right now, is important because it focuses on gender-related issues in employment, like sexual harassment and equal pay