Female athletes work just as hard as male athletes and have reached the pinnacle of success in their fields. Like women in many other fields, women in athletics often find that their work is devalued and they are paid less than their male peers. (Salary secrecy is one way that pay gaps persist.) Fortunately, the law in many states requires equal pay substantially similar work. An experienced Equal Pay Act attorney can help guide you through the process of demanding equal wages.
US Women’s National Soccer Team Equal Pay Act Litigation Leads to Equal Pay for Professional Soccer Players
Perhaps the most famous equal pay lawsuit involving women’s sports teams was brought by the US women’s national soccer team (USWNT) in 2019. The USWNT members alleged that they were paid less than the men’s national soccer team, even though they were significantly more successful.
After three years of contentious litigation, the USWNT lawsuit settled in 2022 for $24 million. The settlement requires US Soccer to pay the men’s and women’s team at an equal rate in all future tournaments, including the World Cup. Superstar Megan Rapinoe told the TODAY show, “For us, this is just a huge win in ensuring that we not only right the wrongs of the past, but set the next generation up for something we only dreamed of.”
Equal Pay Act Lawsuits by Women’s Coaching Staff
While the USWNT were trailblazers on behalf of female athletes, equal pay attorneys have also brought lawsuits on behalf of female coaches.
In Wiler v. Kent State, Kathleen Wiler, the former women’s field hockey coach at Kent State University sued the school, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts. Wiler was an acclaimed coach who led the team to eight regular season titles, five conference titles, and five NCAA post-season appearances. She also received the Mid-Atlantic Conference’s “Coach of the Year” award five times. Wiler complained to Kent State that she made less and had “more difficult conditions” than male coaches of male sports teams. She alleges that she reported the discrimination to the University’s EEO office, to no avail. Wiler resigned ahead of the 2019-2020 season and brought suit on behalf of herself and other coaches of women’s sports teams at the University.
In 2021, Kent State moved to dismiss Wiler’s claims. This motion was denied, meaning her allegations were enough to state a claim for sex or gender discrimination. In October 2022, following discovery, the court found that Wiler had sufficient evidence to present her case to a jury. Unless the case settles, Kent State will face trial on Wiler’s claims in 2023.
Differences Between the California and Federal Equal Pay Act
Notably, Wiler’s case does not allege claims under a state equal pay act—because Ohio did not have one when she worked for Kent State. (Ohio enacted an Equal Pay Act in 2020.) However, she brought a claim under the federal Equal Pay Act, which prohibits an employer from discriminating “between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees . . . at a rate less than the rate at which [it] pays wages to employees of the opposite sex . . . for equal work” for jobs that require “equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions” subject to a number of exceptions. 29 U.S.C. § 206(d).
State Equal Pay Acts, including California’s, provide a more generous standard for plaintiffs. They prohibit discrimination among employees with substantially similar work—not “equal work.” Once an employee shows that they are paid less for substantially similar work, the employer has to offer a legitimate reason for the disparity. These reasons are limited by statute.
Experienced Equal Pay Act Attorneys
At King & Siegel, we are committed to pay equity for women in all fields, sports included. We have successfully pursued equal pay act cases in engineering, law, manufacturing, technology, and other fields. These cases have impact beyond the litigation itself: as the USWNT showed, these cases can lead to long-term equality. Litigation and threatened litigation can lead to pay audits and revamping salary policies, as well as formal commitments to equal pay.
If you believe you may be paid less than your male peers, we encourage you to contact us today for a free case review. We will help brainstorm how to compile the salary data necessary to pursue your potential claims. We will also explore whether the pay gap is a symptom of more widespread gender discrimination at your employer.
Equal pay attorneys often need statistical knowledge and experience working with expert witnesses in order to prove your claims. Our equal pay act attorneys have the experience needed to fight for pay equality across your organization. Contact us today for a free case review.