Former NFL Cheerleader Awaits Arbitration Decision in Complaint Against the NFL

Aug 16, 2019

Former New Orleans Saints cheerleader, Bailey Davis, continues to await an arbitrator’s ruling in her complaint against the team for sex discrimination filed in March of 2018.
The New Orleans Saints fired Davis from the Saintsations in late January of 2018 after she posted a photograph to her Instagram account that was deemed to be in violation of the Saintsations’ policy regarding social media use. Saintsations cheerleaders are prohibited from posting semi-nude, nude, or lingerie photos on social media. The picture in question involved Davis in a black lace bodysuit, which Davis argues is not lingerie. Davis had been a member of the cheerleading team for three years prior to her dismissal. During that time, Davis contends that she and other cheerleaders were mandated to avoid contact with players, in person or online, and were made to block players from following them on social media. They were also instructed to not dine in the same restaurant as players, and that if they were in such a situation, they would need to leave the restaurant. Cheerleaders needed to also avoid speaking to players in detail. Despite these prohibitions on conduct for the cheerleaders, there were no duties, rules, or penalties on the part of players to avoid such conduct, something that Davis contends is represents a gendered double standard. Davis had previously been warned by management over alleged fraternization with players, an allegation which she denies. Following her posting of the picture on Instagram, Davis was texted by the director of the Saintsations, “very poor judgement to post a picture like that especially considering our recent conversations about the rumors going around about u[sic]. This does not help your case. I’d expect you to know better.” Shortly thereafter, Davis received a termination letter from the Saints “due to failure to comply with Saintsations rules and regulations.”
In March of 2018, Davis filed a federal anti-discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming that the organization had a double standard with respect to rules and regulations regarding cheerleaders and Saint players, and that this difference was based on gender. The Saints deny that Davis was discriminated against based on her gender and threatened to sue Davis for defamation. Critics point out that the cheerleaders agree to these policies before they are part of the team and that, given that this was Davis’ third year with the Saintsations, she would have been well aware of such policies. Her mother was a former Saintsation and was one of the cheerleading coaches during this time, further bolstering that argument.
Sara Blackwell, the lawyer representing Davis for the case, is also representing former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, Kristan Ware, who filed a complaint with the Florida State Labor Board alleging discrimination against her based on gender and religion. She alleges that she was discriminated against for expressing her Christian values, but that players can do this on a regular basis. Ware was mocked by her fellow cheerleaders and others as she admitted she was a virgin. The comments worsened after Ware posted an image of her baptism and a Bible verse on her social media. Cheerleading Director, Dorie Grogan, had an interview for returning cheerleaders in April of 2016. Grogan stated, “Let’s talk about your virginity,” in the beginning of the conversation. As the interview went on, Grogan expressed her opinion stating, “as far as we are concerned you have taken something that was once upon a time pure and beautiful and you’ve made it dirty.”
Blackwell sent a letter to the NFL regarding a possible settlement, offering to settle the case in exchange for $1 each and a four hour “good faith” meeting. This meeting would be with other cheerleaders and NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell. They also stated in their letter that the NFL could not disband any cheerleading team for the next five years. Ms. Blackwell issued this letter on April 24, 2018 and gave the NFL until the close of business on Friday to respond. A lawyer for the NFL responded that the league was open to having a conversation and would any suggestions they had to offer to improve the conditions for the cheerleaders. This response left questions as to the exact method of communication, and whether Commissioner Goodell would be involved in this process. Blackwell hopes to have a ruling from the arbitrator in the next few months.
Following Davis’ lawsuit, multiple cheerleaders from other teams have come forward, alleging similar treatment, including claims of unfair pay, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment. In the wake of such claims and multiple media stories regarding them, numerous teams have changed their policies with respect to cheerleaders. The Saints have provided more modest outfits for cheerleaders and discontinued the annual swimsuit calendar. The Washington Redskins and Indianapolis Colts have also moved to less-revealing uniforms. Six former Houston Texans cheerleaders sued the team alleging unsafe work conditions and that they were paid less than minimum wage. An NFL spokesperson commented on the controversy, stating “Last year, the league office worked with clubs that have cheerleaders and encouraged them to review their programs to ensure that they were both appropriate and lawful. Since then, it is our understanding clubs made changes, which include providing additional security for public appearances, providing revised social media policies and providing more organizational support for cheerleading directors.”
Taylor Holmes is a Ph.D. student at Troy University in the Sport Management program.
Michael S. Carroll is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at Troy University specializing in research related to sport law and risk management in sport and recreation. He has published over 30 articles and delivered over 50 presentations at professional conferences. He lives in Orlando, FL.


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