From tennis champ Serena Williams to soccer star Carli Lloyd, celebrated female athletes are drawing mass media attention to gender-related wage gaps. So are Hollywood actresses like Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, and Viola Davis.
Thanks to the celebrity status of these women, the issue is back in the media spotlight and debate across the nation.
Of course, wage discrimination impacts more than gifted female athletes and actresses. It impacts American women at large. Generally, women are paid 78 cents on the dollar for the same work at the same employer as men, according to U.S. Department of Labor estimates. Women of color are paid even less.
Many claim such statistics are exaggerations or the gender pay gap can be explained away by other factors, such as more women requesting flexible schedules or taking time off from careers to raise children, rather than based on discrimination. Likewise, for female athletes and actresses, those opposed to equal pay usually argue that their male counterparts draw more interest and generate more revenue.
But none of those arguments are necessarily true in the workplace, Hollywood, or sports arena.
Case in point: the U.S. women’s soccer team. Lloyd, along with four of her teammates recently filed a wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against U.S. Soccer – the governing body for the sport that also pays the men’s national team members. The female players noted in the complaint that they earn as little as 40% of what the men’s players earned last year, even though last year the women’s team won its third World Cup championship – and generated $20 million more in revenue than the men’s team did.
If the EEOC determines that the pay disparity between the men’s and women’s soccer teams is, in fact, based on gender, U.S. Soccer would be violating federal law. The Equal Pay Act of 1963, which was amended in 2009, prohibits sex-based pay discrimination between men and women. Equal pay for equal work is also protected on our state level. Minnesota law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex “by paying wages to employees at a rate less than the rate the employer pays to employees of the opposite sex for equal work …” Minn. Stat. § 181.67, subd. 1.
Wage discrimination is real – and it’s illegal. As female celebrities raise national attention to this ongoing issue, we hope women of all walks of life understand their rights – including the right to legal defense to rectify this type of workplace discrimination.