Former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis claims the team requires the all-female cheerleading squad to follow much stricter rules than the all-male football team — and that’s “unfair.”
The 22-year-old was fired earlier this year for posting a picture of herself wearing a lacy, one-piece outfit on her Instagram page. In a detailed complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and obtained by PEOPLE, Davis claims the team’s rules for cheerleaders favor players and place unreasonable restrictions on cheerleaders — whether it be in their social media presence, appearance or acts.
“It’s not fair that we’ve worked our whole lives to do this professional job as well as the players have, and we’re stifled by these rules,” Davis told Today in an interview that aired Tuesday morning.
Davis alleges that the team has one set of rules for the players, but an entirely different set of rules for the cheerleaders.
Among these rules, according to the complaint, is the regulation that cheerleaders must make their social media accounts private and are not allowed to follow any Saints players on social media. Additionally, the cheerleaders are not allowed to interact with any players online — but players are not prohibited from interacting with the dancers, according to the complaint.
“If the cheerleaders can’t contact the players, then the players shouldn’t be able to contact the cheerleaders,” Sara Blackwell, Davis’ lawyer, told the New York Times. “The antiquated stereotype of women needing to hide for their own protection is not permitted in America and certainly not in the workplace.”
According to the complaint, Ashley Deaton, the senior director of the Saintsations allegedly said in an email that the social media restrictions are to “protect you from player advances.”
“It is understandable and expected that players will try to contact you,” Deaton allegedly added in the email. “If/when this does happen you should NEVER respond and ALWAYS report it to me.”
By Davis’ account, officials seem to go to great lengths to discourage player-cheerleader engagement. The women are forbidden from fraternizing with “any player, coach, or management personnel of the company.”
In Deaton’s alleged email, she described fraternizing as exchanging numbers with a player or coach, messaging any of them on social media, and even being in the same section at a club, at the same dinner table, or even holding “a conversation with one of them that lingered beyond a professional ‘hello’ or ‘great game.’ “
“They’ve been told that anything beyond ‘hello’ and ‘great game’ is too personal,” Davis’ mother, Lora, who is also a choreographer for the squad, told the Times. “It’s considered fraternization to say anything beyond that.”
Gregory Rouchell of Adams and Reese LLP, who serves as legal counsel for the Saints, tells PEOPLE that “The New Orleans Saints is an equal opportunity employer, and it denies that Ms. Davis was discriminated against because she is female. The Saints will defend these allegations in due course, and the Organization is confident that its policies and workplace rules will withstand legal scrutiny.”
Prior to Davis’s Instagram post there had been rumors swirling that Davis had attended a party with one of the athletes — an allegation she denies. But the speculations prompted a meeting between Davis and several human resources officials, who ordered her to hold a meeting about the issue with her fellow cheerleaders.
Shortly after, Davis posted the January Instagram shot, prompting Deaton to allegedly scold Davis in a text message, according to the complaint, saying: “Very poor judgement 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.”
In the days that followed, Davis was fired.
Officials allegedly said Davis violated the rule prohibiting cheerleaders from appearing nude, semi-nude or in lingerie. Davis has denied breaking the rule.
Davis is not the only NFL cheerleader who has challenged the rules imposed on them. In 2014, former members of the Buffalo Bills’ cheerleading squad disbanded and filed a lawsuit claiming the team and its contractors at time paid them less than minimum wage, and were provided with detailed instructions on how to appear and act in public. Last October, a New York court agreed the suit could be considered a class-action lawsuit, according to WGRZ-TV.
According to Times, Davis’ discrimination case attempts to prove that her termination violates an NFL rule prohibiting employee discrimination based on somebody’s “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or sexual orientation.”
“I don’t think they’ll give me my job back, but I do want the rules to be equal for the other women,” Davis told Today.
The NFL has not responded to a request for comment from PEOPLE.