The issue stems from an Instagram photo that the team found to be in violation of its rules.
A former New Orleans Saints cheerleader has filed suit for discrimination against the team, citing prohibitive team rules that are applied uniformly to the cheerleaders on the team, but not the players. A lawyer for Bailey Davis, the cheerleader in question, claims that her Instagram post in a one-piece bodysuit served as the impetus for her termination.
The New York Times found that the team imposes strict rules that prohibit cheerleaders from posting photos that are nude, semi-nude, or in lingerie. Further, the Saints handbook for cheerleaders prohibits fraternization between cheerleaders and players to such an extent that cheerleaders are instructed to leave a restaurant if they find a player is dining at the same restaurant at the same time.
The players have no such standard in place guiding their behavior as pertains to their interactions, putting the onus solely on the cheerleaders.
Cheerleaders are also instructed to block every NFL player on their social media accounts, despite the fact that players number over 2,000 and often use pseudonyms for their accounts. Said Sara Blackwell, Bailey Davis’ attorney in the matter, “If the cheerleaders can’t contact the players, then the players shouldn’t be able to contact the cheerleaders. The antiquated stereotype of women needing to hide for their own protection is not permitted in America and certainly not in the workplace.”
Further, cheerleaders are instructed not to post photos of themselves in team gear or uniform on their personal Instagram accounts, a rule which Davis appears to have broken when she posted this photo on her personal account.
However, it was the shared photo below that drew the attention of the team, which first instructed Davis to remove the post via a text message from the cheerleaders’ senior director, Ashley Deaton. Her text, as obtained by The New York Times, read, “Very poor judgment to post a picture like that especially considering our recent conversations about the rumors going around about u. This does not help your case. I'd expect you to know better.”
The Saints offered to Business Insider a response to the allegations that the asymmetric rules structure amounted to gender discrimination, stating:
The New Orleans Saints do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and it specifically denies that Ms. Davis was treated any differently on account of her sex," they said. "The Organization looks forward to clearing itself of any wrongdoing with regards to its policies and workplace rules.
Davis said to The New York Times that her lawsuit isn’t driven by personal motivation, as her termination only cost her a fourth year and final year of employment with the team at a wage rate of $10.25 per hour. “I’m doing this for them so they can do what they love and feel protected and empowered, and be a female athlete, and not be pushed to the side and feeling unimportant,” she stated.
This controversy is only the most recent of many issues surrounding pro sports teams and their treatment of cheerleaders. In May of 2017, a federal judge threw out a wage-suppression claim initiated by a San Francisco 49ers cheerleader and intended as a class-action lawsuit. Similar actions have been raised and won against the Jets, Bengals, and Buccaneers stemming from team requirements that cheerleaders use their scant pay to cover the cost of job-related expenses, such as uniforms and game-day transport.