The lawyer representing two former NFL cheerleaders who recently filed discrimination claims against the league has made a settlement proposal: If her clients can have a four-hour, “good faith” meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell and league lawyers, they will settle all claims for $1 each.
The settlement proposal, sent to an NFL attorney on Tuesday, asks that the league meet with at least four cheerleaders to “prepare a set of binding rules and regulations which apply to all NFL teams.”
Also, it would not allow teams that currently have cheerleading squads to disband them, as a way of retaliating against women who raised the workplace issues, for at least five years.
The proposal was crafted and sent by Sara Blackwell, a Florida lawyer who represents former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis and former Miami Dolphins cheerleader Kristan Ware, both of whom recently filed complaints of gender discrimination.
The letter is little more than one typed page, mostly asking for an audience with Goodell. But it could force the league into making the next move in what has become a sticky public-relations battle.
Blackwell asked for a response from the NFL by May 4.
“We’re not asking them to admit fault, or to admit guilt, or even admit that there is anything wrong,” Blackwell said in a phone interview. “But if they do want and expect that cheerleaders should have a fair working environment, as they have stated, then it doesn’t make any common sense why the answer would be no.”
The letter was sent to Steven Hurd, a New York lawyer at the firm Proskauer who often represents the NFL.
The letter is the latest development to push the treatment of cheerleaders — and, by extension, the public’s perception of them — into the forefront.
Dozens of current and former cheerleaders have stepped forward to discuss the indignities of what is often considered a glamorous job at the pinnacle of the dance profession. Some have detailed grievances that include pervasive and sometimes physical sexual harassment from fans that teams are aware of, extremely low pay and long hours, and strict rules covering everything from weight and appearance to social-media use that do not apply to players or other team representatives.
The NFL has responded with a written statement, filled more with a soothing tone than concrete ideas to fix any problems.
“The NFL and all NFL member clubs support fair employment practices,” the league’s statement said. “Everyone who works in the NFL, including cheerleaders, has the right to work in a positive and respectful environment that is free from any and all forms of harassment and discrimination and fully complies with state and federal laws. Our office will work with our clubs in sharing best practices and employment-related processes that will support club cheerleading squads within an appropriate and supportive workplace.”
Blackwell’s letter to the league cited that statement and said: “If the NFL is serious about this statement, then this should be an acceptable settlement demand. It is one that is virtually free for the NFL and for the NFL teams and it will ensure the positive and respectful environment the NFL states is the right of the NFL cheerleaders.”
One of the cheerleaders present would be Davis, who was fired from the Saintsations, the cheerleading and dance squad of the Saints, after posting a photograph of herself on Instagram. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the Saints of having different standards for women and men.
Another cheerleader who would meet with the NFL would be Ware, who worked three seasons with the Dolphins. This month, she filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations alleging she was discriminated against because of her gender and religion.
Blackwell said the other two cheerleaders who would attend the meeting have not been determined, but they would have no association with Blackwell and would come from other teams. The four cheerleaders would discuss both the “unlawful” and the “lawful, but egregious” employment practices pervasive in professional cheerleading, according to the letter.
“We want change,” Blackwell said. “We want the opportunity for change.”
If the NFL rejects the proposal, the complaints made by Davis and Ware would continue through due process. If the NFL accepts it, there is still no guarantee that the meeting would be fruitful, or that it would greatly improve conditions for cheerleaders.
“I understand that they could meet with us, patronize us and do nothing in the end,” Blackwell said. “I understand that risk. But it’s a risk we’re willing to take to try to have real change.”