Being a cheerleader is hard work and glamorous and you can bet that any woman that makes it that far figured out long ago how to handle tampon usage and the right shaving techniques, but the NFL doesn't think so.
The New York Times reviewed the handbooks for seven different NFL team's cheerleaders and found they included things like hygiene, weight (Cincinnati Ben-Gals have to be within 3 pounds of ideal weight), what they have to do when a player from their team comes into the same restaurant (leave), and no sweatpants in public. All this for a job that pays very little and requires (in some cases) the cheerleaders to buy their own expensive uniforms.
While I wish the entire world had a no sweatpants in public rule (although, really for the men, because if we're going to be sexist here, that's the rule I'd make), this is over the top.
But is it illegal?
Cheerleaders are adults who accept this job of their own free will and choice, even though they get paid very little, and don't receive benefits (at least in some cases). They know what they are getting into when they take the job, so there's no surprise that they are treated poorly. It's in the handbook.
The New Orleans Saints fired cheerleader Bailey Davis in January after she posted a picture the team found unacceptable on her Instagram account. Bailey is suing, saying that because the female cheerleaders have these crazy rules while the male football players don't, that it violates federal discrimination laws.
Davis' attorney, Sara Blackwell told USA TODAY sports:
"NFL players have zero rules over contact with cheerleaders. But the cheerleaders have written rules that they can only say 'hello,' (or) 'good game.' They cannot speak to (players), they cannot be in (the) same room."
Whether this is illegal or merely dumb comes down to whether or not football players and cheerleaders are considered "similarly situated employees." You don't have to treat all employees exactly the same--think about the perks executives get compared to entry-level people--but similarly situated employees must be treated similarly.
So, are cheerleaders and football players similarly situated?
I don't think so.
The better comparison would be if the rules that allegedly apply to female cheerleaders did not apply to male cheerleaders.
Plus, even if the rules are different for cheerleaders and players, those differences may be non-discriminatory...
Companies that utilize (or are perceived to utilize) work rules based on stereotyped or antiquated views on how men and women should be treated do risk these types of claims. However, these types of claims often carry bad publicity. Therefore, consider auditing your workplace policies from time to time. Among other things, check to see if any of your policies, while technically legal, may otherwise fail the smell test.
I agree with Meyer. Even though this whole thing makes steam come out of my ears, it's unlikely a court would determine that the football players are similarly situated with the cheerleaders, even though they work on the same field.
Having these rules is awful and antiquated. However, I'm not convinced that they are handed down from male leadership at the top in an attempt to oppress female cheerleaders. I don't know who wrote the crazy handbooks or how well enforced they are, but the leadership over the cheerleaders is female.
The Ben-Gals' cheerleading coaches are all female. It appears that the Carolina Panthers TopCats are a female-run organization as well, and I wouldn't be surprised to find all the cheerleader leadership is female.
Cheerleading, especially in the NFL, is a female endeavor. Just two days ago the first two male cheerleaders were added to the Los Angeles Rams. While the cheerleading coaches ultimately report up to the male-dominated NFL leadership, they undoubtedly have a say in how these rules are enforced, even if they didn't have a say in how they were written. Women are not always the best champions of other women.
Regardless of who wrote these terrible rules, it's time for them to go.