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Pay Disparity in Sports is Gaining Recognition


You have probably heard about the discrimination lawsuit filed by several members of the U.S. National Women's Soccer Team. These female soccer players allege that they are paid less than their male counterparts. According to the lawsuit, the women's soccer team generated almost $20 million more in revenue in 2015 than the men's team. However, the women allege they were paid nearly four times less.

How do they justify the disparities?

The U.S. Soccer Federation may attempt to justify the disparity based on the collective bargaining agreement specifically that the players agreed to the compensation and working conditions. They may also argue that they receive substantially higher payouts from FIFA for their participation in the men's World Cup.

In other cases, arguments have been made that female athletes "owe their success to their male counterparts." Some governing agencies argue that male and female sporting events and tours have different endorsement deals, sponsors and viewer audiences, which accounts for the pay disparities.

Which laws protect against gender discrimination in pay?

The Equal Pay Act requires that that men and women receive equal pay for equal work in the same establishment. The jobs at issue do not necessarily have to be identical, but they must at least be substantially equal in duties.

A claim for unequal pay can also be raised under the federal anti-discrimination statute known as Title VII. The differences in the Equal Pay Act and Title VII are that Title VII does not require proof that the positions are substantially equal, but it does require proof of intent to discriminate on the basis of sex, unlike the Equal Pay Act.

Establishing an Equal Pay Act claim

The EPA requires a showing that the jobs at issue require "substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility," and that those jobs are performed under similar working conditions within the same establishment or workplace. Here is how those elements are defined:

  • Skill is measured by factors such as the experience, ability, education, and training required to perform the job.
  • Effort refers to the amount of physical or mental exertion needed to perform the job.
  • Responsibility equates to the degree of accountability required in performing the job.
  • Working conditions include (1) physical surroundings like temperature, fumes, and ventilation, and (2) hazards.

Amendments to the EPA

The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed in 2009, provides some added protection for employees. Specifically, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act adds the following types of unlawful discrimination:

  • A discriminatory compensation decision or other practice is adopted.
  • An individual becomes subject to a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice.
  • An individual is affected by the application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid, resulting in whole or in part from such a decision or other practice.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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