Dancing for the New Orleans Saintsations cheerleading squad was a lifelong dream for Bailey Davis. Those dreams were crushed after three years on the job when she says she was fired for a “distasteful” Instagram post.
Now, the former cheerleader has filed a complaint against the National Football League (NFL).
Davis grew up in Ellisville, Mississippi. Her family travelled 150 miles to Louisiana to support the New Orleans Saints football team each season.
Her mother worked as a choreographer for the Saintsations for 18 years and Davis grew up around the women with the goal of someday becoming one of them.
After high school, Davis finally had her chance to dance in the Superdome, where the Saints play. She was invited to become a Saintsation after a year of junior college.
Davis’ mother was a Saintsation coach until she resigned this month following her daughters’ firing
The 22-year-old spent three seasons travelling with the 2010 Super Bowl champions until she was fired on 23 January.
The photo that she said led to her dismissal showed Davis in a lingerie body suit, which her employer allegedly claimed violated Saints policy.
“This letter is your confirmation of the termination of your employment with the New Orleans Louisiana Saints effective today… due to failure to comply with Saintsations rules and regulations”, the letter, seen by the BBC, reads.
Why was she fired?
The “rules and regulations” referred to in the letter are anti-fraternisation policies between dancers and players and semi-nude photos posted on social media.
The NFL team’s employee handbook says: “Nude, semi-nude, or lingerie photography is strictly prohibited and terms for immediate dismissal”.
The rule, however, does not apply to Saints football players and is only required for Saintsation cheerleaders.
After she was let go, Davis hired a lawyer and filed a discrimination complaint against the NFL team with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Davis’ lawyer, Sara Blackwell, told the BBC that she believes the policy unfairly targets women.
“The Saintsations should be treated as athletes, which is what they are,” she said. “This is a clear discrimination based on gender.”
She added that players can post photos in their underwear on social media, so cheerleaders should be allowed to as well.
Blackwell, who filed a complaint on Friday, said the next step will be to send a letter to the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to request a hearing.
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Davis is also challenging the Saints for their claim she broke anti-fraternisation rules, which she said was another reason for her dismissal.
The former cheerleader said she was called into the team’s human resources office and was told she had violated the policy by attending a party with Saints players, which is prohibited for members of the dance squad.
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Davis denied the allegation, but the rumours persisted.
After she posted a lingerie photo, her coach texted her: “Very poor judgement to post a picture like that especially considering our recent conversations about the rumours going around about you. This does not help your case. I’d expect you to know better.”