A federal judge has thrown out a discrimination case against the Indianapolis Colts brought by one of the team’s ex-cheerleaders, who claimed she was illegally fired after photos surfaced of her clad only in body paint.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt on August 13 dismissed the complaint filed last year by Malori Wampler, a former cheerleader for the National Football League team. Wampler alleged in the Southern District of Indiana that she was thrown off the squad not because of the photos taken at a Playboy magazine-sponsored event, but because she was Indonesian.
In granting the team’s motion for summary judgment, Pratt ruled that the team’s reason for firing Wampler, a physical therapist with a Ph.D., from the $100 per-game job was legitimate, given its rule against cheerleaders appearing in nude photos.
“To be sure, NFL cheerleaders are not puritans — nor should they be,” Pratt wrote. “The job necessarily entails wearing somewhat revealing outfits, dancing somewhat provocatively (but within reason, since NFL games are family affairs), and maintaining a fit and attractive physical appearance. This argument is well-taken, but the Court is not persuaded.”
Representing the team was Daniel Emerson, vice president and general counsel for the Indianapolis Colts. “The Colts are gratified by Judge Pratt’s thoughtful decision and pleased that this unfortunate dispute has been brought to a merciful conclusion,” he said.
Representing Wampler was Kimberly Jeselskis of the Jeselskis Law Office in Indianapolis. She did not respond to messages seeking comment.
According to the ruling, Wampler interviewed for a position on the squad in May 2010. During the interview, she reported that she had worked as a host at golf tournaments Playboy hosted across the country but said that she had not posed nude for photos. In accepting the cheerleader job, she signed an agreement “not to commit any act that will or may create notoriety (including, but not limited to, posing nude or semi-nude in or for any media or publication whatsoever), bring cheerleader into public disrepute, or reflect adversely on club or its sponsors.”
In November 2010, a Colts fan anonymously sent the team pictures of Wampler taken at a Playboy event “wearing only body paint over her private parts,” Pratt wrote. The team quickly fired her, citing the risqué nature of the pictures and because it concluded she had lied about not appearing in nude photos, the judge continued.
Wampler had argued that her supervisors had treated her differently because she was Indonesian — and that a white cheerleader who posed in a commercial photo wearing lingerie while reclining on a bed with two men was allowed to keep her job. The squad’s supervisors learned of those photos also from a fan.
Pratt, noting the similarities of the situations, nevertheless found them different enough.
“First, [the second cheerleader] wore lingerie in her photograph, whereas Ms. Wampler did not wear any clothing, but wore only body paint,” the judge wrote. “Second, Ms. Wampler arguably lied about posing nude, whereas [the other cheerleader] simply did not address the issue with the Club before modeling for the photo shoot.”
Pratt was not persuaded by Wampler’s argument that a woman covered in body paint is not actually nude. “If a person uses latex body paint to cover his or her private parts, does that constitute nudity? Perhaps reasonable minds could disagree on this issue. (And the answer may turn on the quality and opaqueness of the paint at issue),” she wrote. “The relevant point is that the Club reasonably construed Ms. Wampler’s statement as a lie.”
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