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Equal Pay Takes Center Stage at the Women's Soccer World Cup

What businesses can learn from the US Women’s National Soccer team’s quest for equal pay


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As the newly crowned world champion US Women’s National Soccer Team members received their winners’ medals, chants of “equal pay!” reverberated through the stadium. Those in knew that the men’s 2018 World Cup prize was $400 million, while this year’s female players’ prize was set at $30 million. Support for the athletes in their fight for equal pay also appeared to be behind fans booing FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Recognition of the issue was evident on social media, with Twitter reporting that there were five times more tweets about “pay” after the win, according to the BBC.   

The issue for the US women’s team initially found the limelight on March 8 – International Women’s Day – when all 28 members of the team filed a federal gender discrimination class action lawsuit (Morgan v. U.S. Soccer Fed’n, Inc) against the U.S. Soccer Federation, which employs both the men’s national and the women’s national team.

The lawsuit claims the federation discriminates by paying the women less than their male counterparts and “by denying them at least 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].”

While equal pay issues generally don’t garner worldwide attention, increasing attention is being shown to these issues across the United States. Federal law has long prohibited discrimination in pay based on sex, and claims are on the rise. In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will start collecting pay data from employers in September. 

Meanwhile, state and local governments are also getting into the act. Pay equity laws now exist in dozens of states, and some do not limit pay inequality prohibitions to differences based on sex. Moreover, many states and local governments have adopted laws prohibiting employers from inquiring about and/or using salary history to set wages. Colorado is among those states.

This year, the Colorado legislature passed SB19-085, which prohibits an employer from discriminating between employees on the basis of sex or on the basis of sex plus another protected status, by paying one employee a wage rate less than the rate paid to an employee of a different sex for substantially similar work. Importantly, prior wage history may not be relied upon to justify a disparity in current wage rates. The law also prohibits employers from seeking prior wage history or discriminating on the basis of a prospective employee’s failure to disclose wage history. As is already the case, employers may not prohibit employees from discussing their wage rates. The law takes effect January 1, 2021.

Don’t wait to be booed, literally or legally. Our firm has an interactive map with all of the states’ and local governments’ individual pay equity laws to determine which apply to your operations. Take steps to keep your organization in compliance, such as eliminating pay history questions from your hiring process, training managers, conducting an internal pay audit to uncover any disparities and addressing any disparities found.

Susan Schaecher, of counsel in the Fisher Phillips Denver office, dedicates her practice to representing employers in labor and employment-related matters.

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