Looking for an Equaliser?

by Siobhan Lafferty, Lawyer in the Employment Department, Fieldfisher

In the US, the women’s national soccer team has seen great success on the field – being the most successful women’s national team out there – and has kept its winning momentum during the Women’s World Cup in France. However, off the field the team is fighting a battle for equal pay in comparison with their male counterparts.

The women’s national soccer team filed a federal class action lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation (the “Federation”) on the basis of gender discrimination. The suit alleges that the Federation discriminates by paying the women less than members of the men’s national team ‘for substantially equal playing, training, and travel conditions; equal promotion of their games; equal support and development for their games; and other terms and conditions of employment equal to the men’s national team’.

The Federation has defended the claim, arguing a misunderstanding of the relevant legislation and arguing that the women’s and men’s national teams ‘…receive fundamentally different pay structures for performing different work under their separate collective bargaining agreements that require different obligations and responsibilities.’ Essentially this amounts to an argument that it is not equal work between the men’s and women’s national teams.

This is particularly interesting in light of the fact the women’s team is the most successful team in the history of women’s soccer – with four World Cup titles and four Olympic medals, not to mention beating Thailand a cool 13-0 at the commencement of this year’s tournament. Reports after the team’s 2015 World Cup team and victory tour showed that the women’s team had far exceeded the revenue and profits which the men’s team had generated in the same time frame. Nonetheless the highest paid men’s national team player earns nearly $200,000 more than the highest paid women’s national team player.

The issue of equal pay is therefore not going anywhere anytime soon – in Ireland or in the United States. Employers in Ireland need to consider the wider impact on employee relations which can arise as a result of equal pay issues and claims. There are reputational risks for employers who ignore any disparity in pay which cannot be genuinely accounted for. With Gender Pay Gap Reporting legislation on the horizon in Ireland in the near future, the issue of equal pay and, particularly, any alleged pay differential, is going to be an increasingly topical issue.

Interestingly, it has now been agreed that the US women’s soccer team case is going to go to mediation to consider whether it can be resolved first. The team are likely to continue in their quest for further glory – but whether the same can be said in the US courts is another matter entirely.

About the author
Siobhán is a lawyer in the Employment Department at Fieldfisher, and regularly advises both corporate client employers as well as employees. Siobhán has extensive experience in advising on all aspects of employment law and has advised on a range of issues from redundancies to discrimination complaints. She also has experience in working on contentious matters across the UK and Ireland, including High Court proceedings.

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