Well, here we go again… another compensation issue to dissect on the topic of “Equal Pay for Equal Work,” or, the “Gender Pay Gap.” Choose your preferred label. In this case they are closely intertwined. This case specifically involves the women’s U.S. Soccer Team and the complaint that it submitted to the U.S. Soccer Federation, claiming that the members of the women’s team are unfairly paid relative to the U.S. men’s team.
Let’s establish some facts first. The women are clearly underpaid relative to the men’s team, earning approximately 50% of what the men’s team members are paid. With respect to the revenue that the teams generate, women’s soccer produces about $20M more that the men’s team, which, according to some, operates at a loss of about $2M.
This is clearly an “equal pay” issue. However, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 states that men and women “must be paid the same” if they hold the “same job.” Women or men are paid more than each other when they hold the same job if the reason is attributable to one or more of four “exceptions” to the equal pay requirement, such as being paid more for “meritorious performance.” Thus, a man may be paid more than a female who holds the same job if he performs the tasks better than the female.
So it could be said that the women and men “have the same job” (i.e. they play soccer for their country). However, they are not on the same team. Given the nature of competitive world wide soccer, it is quite logical as to why the women aren’t on an integrated team. It isn’t the nature of the competition. Until the rules change one day, the women cannot make the argument that they should be allowed to play on the men’s team.
So what about legal precedent? There are clear cases in academia, for example, that support the idea that a university can pay male professors who teach business courses more than female professors who teach Philosophy. The decisions are based upon the notion of the “market” and “what it will bear” with respect to the respective pay levels of male and female professors. Put another way, business professors who are male are paid more than female professors in another discipline because that is what is necessary to attract the desired talent. Also, more students take business courses than those enrolled in Philosophy courses, thus generating more revenue for the University.
But the U.S. women’s soccer team takes in more revenue than the men. Shouldn’t this be a similar factor to that of the teachers? That’s on the plus side. However, women chose to work for the stipulated pay level when they joined the U.S. soccer team, suggesting that the pay level was seen as adequate for the role… until they learned what the men were being paid. If one wants to play for the U.S. National Team, one must play for the designated pay level, or not play at all.
In the end this issue comes down to one of fundamental fairness, not necessarily legal interpretation. This is more of a “Gender Pay Gap” issue than one of “equal pay for equal work.” The women’s team earns a great financial return for its effort. If one believes that the gender pay gap is caused by organizations paying women less simply because they can, legally or illegally, then here is a case that can be resolved by paying the members of the women’s team more for their success, their personal sacrifice and for the national pride that they generate.
A better solution would be reframing the Equal Pay Act to include a clause that extends its provisions to roles that are only separated by gender, like the U.S. Soccer Teams. The athletes hold the same role, and perform for the same organization and country. The only differentiator is gender.
However, reframing laws takes too much time to resolve this matter expeditiously. Until then, we must grapple with these issues in other, perhaps less satisfying, ways.
Readers seeking references used in this article can reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. The readers’ thoughts are all welcome.