It’s been a busy month for Jeffrey Kessler. Earlier this month, the all-star appellate lawyer fielded some tough questions from a panel of judges in the Deflate-Gate appeal and this week he filed a wage discrimination complaint with the EEOC on behalf of four soccer players from the United States Women’s National Team. I have a feeling that this is a story that is going to get much bigger in the coming months unless US Soccer takes fast action to make peace (which looks increasingly unlikely).
My friend Neil Blackmon is an attorney who also has an excellent blog covering both of the US National Teams in soccer, The Yanks Are Coming. His breakdown of the wage discrimination complaint is well worth a read, and you can find it here.
The EEOC complaint is the first step in the process of bringing a wage-discrimination lawsuit in federal court, but as Neil astutely points out, it has strategic value which may pay dividends before a suit is filed. In addition to the leverage the complaint may lend in pending collective bargaining negotiations, I believe it is more probable than not that the complaint will result in a finding of reasonable cause by the EEOC, which most likely will come in the wake of a period of high exposure and adoration for the US Women’s National Team at the 2016 Olympic Games. This would be a public relations disaster for US Soccer, as the conclusion by a federal agency will play out in the public eye and in the media like a conviction for civil rights violations against a team that, more than any other, can be said to be a symbol of equal rights for women’s athletics.
With the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, Congress prohibited public and private institutions receiving federal funds from excluding anyone from activities or programs on the basis of gender. The program created unprecedented opportunities for female athletes to compete in college athletics and resulted in a significant increase in women’s soccer programs and scholarships. With generations of women taking advantage of these opportunities, the USA has become a powerhouse in women’s soccer, with international success that vastly exceeds their male counterparts. With this rich history, the US Women’s National Team and its stars are the perfect champions for wage equality.
Now imagine if the women can pull off another Olympic Gold in Rio and just a few months later the EEOC concludes that there is reasonable cause to believe that US Soccer has a practice of wage discrimination. It will be a real strategic coup by Kessler if the dominoes fall that way and will result in tremendous pressure from the public, and possibly lawmakers, to address this disparity. As the father of a two-and-a-half year old daughter who is already eagerly kicking a soccer ball around the backyard, I’m rooting for these girls. Now if Kessler could just figure out how to get Tom Brady out of trouble…