Though they play as hard, sacrifice as much or more, and have the same or greater skill and talent as their male counterparts, female professional athletes haven’t been afforded the respect and remuneration they deserve. Historically, the compensation earned by female athletes has paled in comparison to the fortunes made by men in professional athletic leagues. This wild disparity in pay, perks, and other benefits has also long existed between men and women at the amateur level representing the United States in international competitions. Now, however, athletes of both genders who wear the Stars and Stripes on their uniforms will receive the same pay for playing under the same banner.
In December, President Biden signed the bipartisan Equal Pay for Team USA Act into law. The act mandates that all athletes representing the United States in global athletic competitions receive equal compensation and benefits regardless of gender. It also requires equivalent payment for medical care, travel, and reimbursement for expenses.
The new law covers sports programs run by 50 governing bodies, including U.S. Soccer, USA Volleyball, and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committees (USOPC). The act was introduced in 2019 after the Women’s National Soccer Team won a world championship and sued for equal pay.
While a significant advancement for pay equity in sports, the new law does nothing to address the even wider disparity between men and women in professional leagues like the NBA and WNBA or Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League. For example, the average NBA player earns $5.3 million a year, while the average WNBA player makes $130,000 a year. The gap is even more pronounced among the most elite athletes in both leagues. While the economics involved in professional sports are certainly distinct from those in amateur sports, this disparity still reflects an inequitable distinction between male and female athletes.
It also reflects the persistence of the gender gap in compensation generally, despite long-stand federal and state legislative efforts to address the issue. This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which requires that men and women in the same workplace receive equal pay for equal work. Nevertheless, at the start of 2022, women earned 82 cents for every dollar men earn when comparing all women to all men, according to compensation data firm Payscale’s 2022 State of the Gender Pay Gap Report.
Fortunately, the law provides protections and remedies for women who are being inequitably compensated under federal or state equal pay laws. If you believe you are receiving less compensation, benefits, and opportunities compared to similarly situated male colleagues at your workplace, please contact one of the pay disparity lawyers at Outten & Golden to discuss your situation and determine whether you have a claim.