Articles Tagged with equal pay

Institutions of higher education are often perceived as being ahead of the curve when it comes to issues of equality and progressive treatment of members of protected groups. In reality, this is not always the case — especially when it comes to women working as college coaches or as employees within the athletic departments of universities. In fact, there have been several high-profile instances of employment discrimination lawsuits within athletic departments of several “Power 5” athletic universities have made news in recent years. These high profile lawsuits have resulted in much needed increased public scrutiny of important issues of systemic discrimination within our country’s university athletic departments.   

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Perhaps most notably is the gender and sex orientation discrimination brought by a former field hockey coach and senior athletic official against the University of Iowa athletic department. In that case, Tracey Griesbaum and her partner Jane Meyer were employed by the University of Iowa’s athletic department. Griesbaum, a former field hockey coach at the University of Iowa, and Meyer, a senior department director, were romantic partners during their tenure at Iowa. Throughout their employment, both women alleged they were subjected to gender and sexual orientation discrimination by department director Gary Barta. Meyer and Griesbaum’s relationship was often scrutinized and used against them in their job performance reviews and assessments, despite being approved by administrative officials through appropriate process. Further, Meyer was passed over for promotions and paid drastically less than male coworkers who had fewer job responsibilities and less experience. 

The discrimination escalated when Griesbaum was fired in 2014. The University attributed her termination to allegations that she abused her athletes, but an extensive investigation revealed that these allegations were baseless. As a senior department director who recognized the unlawful behavior, Meyer complained about Griesbaum’s termination, explaining that it was discriminatory and unlawful, and brought up additional instances of gender discrimination occurring within the department. The following day, following her complaints, Meyer was subjected to that same discrimination when she was placed on administrative leave and transferred out of the athletic department. Following Meyer’s unlawful transfer and termination, the two former employees filed lawsuit in a Iowa state court. Through the suit, Meyer and Griesbaum argued that they had been victims of discrimination based on both gender and sexual orientation. 

The FIFA Women’s World Cup has captivated the attention of nations around the world, and the United States is no exception. With the group stage coming to a close this week, the U.S. Women’s National Team (“WNT”) has already demonstrated dominance in their first two games, beating Thailand and Chile by a combined score of 16-0. As the WNT’s World Cup successes have increasingly dominated headlines, the team’s recent lawsuit  filed against their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation, Inc. (“USSF”), has attracted increased attention as well. While the team battles to defend their FIFA World Cup title on the pitch, they battle in court to defend their rights, and the rights of women nationwide, to receive equal pay for equal work.

The law has long been that all people in the United States are entitled to equal pay for equal work (regardless of gender, race, or any other protected characteristic), as well as fair employment standards and work conditions. These protections were established with the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and can be traced back to 1868 and the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. According to their Complaint, for decades the WNT has endured grossly unequal pay and inferior working conditions in comparison to the Men’s National Team (“MNT”). This has continued despite the fact that the WNT is demonstrably more successful and produces comparable revenue to the MNT for the USSF, which employs both the WNT and the MNT.

The Complaint filed by the WNT details the pay gap that exists between the two teams. It explains that if a male and female national team player each played 20 exhibition games in one year, the male player would earn an average of $263,320 while the female player would earn a maximum of $99,000. Male players who try out for and earn a place on a World Cup team earn $55,000, while female players only earn $15,000 for the same accomplishment. In 2014, the USSF provided the MNT with performance bonuses totaling $5,375,000 for losing in the Round of 16. By contrast, the WNT only earned $1,725,000 for winning the entire tournament. Despite advancing three rounds further that the MNT, and ultimately winning the entire tournament, WNT players earned less than a third of what the MNT players earned.  

Defenders of labor rights face an uphill battle addressing the widespread abuses facing workers around the world.  Most industrialized nations have legal protections in place establishing standards for labor conditions, but in many parts of the world this is not the case. In our globalized economy, corporations in industrialized nations take advantage of this reality and set their manufacturing and production operations to those nations, to access relatively inexpensive labor.  In the worst of these cases, workers have no protections whatsoever, and live in slavery. Recently, a United States federal court took a step to hold some of these companies responsible, for being at least complicit in a system supported by slavery, as the court put it in “receiving cocoa at a price that would not be obtainable without employing child slave labor.”

Last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of a California District Court Judge’s in the case John Doe I, et. al. v. Nestle, S.A., et. al.  In this case, the unnamed plaintiffs allege that a group of corporate defendants in the business of processing cocoa beans were complicit in a system of widespread child slavery that occurred on cocoa plantations in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, a nation on the West African coast.   The plaintiffs in the case, identified only as John Doe’s I–VI, allege that they were victimized by these companies and the decisions those companies made in pursuing profits, up to and including condoning the use of child slave labor on the plantations of their cocoa suppliers.

The defendants in this case, Nestle, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland, are each large multinational corporations and are among the world’s largest manufacturers, purchasers, processors, and retail sellers of cocoa beans.  The plaintiffs are not U.S. citizens, but were able to file their suit in U.S. Federal Court on the basis of the Alien Tort Statute, or the “ATS.”  That statute, originally passed in the Judiciary Act of 1789, provides original jurisdiction to the federal courts for foreign citizens to seek redress for harms suffered as the result of a tort committed in violation of the law of nations. Among other torts, courts have found torture, genocide, war crimes, and slavery to be actionable under the ATS.