Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Friday, August 19, 2016

Justice Dept Files Suit Alleging Unequal Pay for Female Coach

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against New Mexico State University Alleging Discrimination

The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that New Mexico State University and its Board of Regents (NMSU) discriminated against a female former assistant track coach on the basis of sex by paying her less than similarly-situated men in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


The Justice Department’s complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico and alleges that, over the relevant periods of time, NMSU paid Meaghan Harkins thousands of dollars less per year than it paid to two male assistant track coaches with similar responsibilities, in violation of Title VII.  Title VII is a federal statute that prohibits employment discrimination – including discrimination in compensation – on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion.


“Women deserve the same salary and the same respect as their male colleagues with similar job duties,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “Lawsuits like this one demonstrate the Justice Department’s steadfast commitment to enforcing federal law to close the wage gap.”

August 19, 2016 in Equal Employment, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sexism at the Olympics

Literally Just a List of Sexist Things Which Have Happened at the Olympics for Far

Because there’s nothing like the Olympic Games to remind women that we are inferior by patronising female athletes for the world to see at every given opportunity. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the most sexist things that have happened thus far.


The commodification of the female body started before the athletes even arrived in Rio, with the host nation promising it to have the “sexiest ever” opening ceremony with “lots of nearly naked women doing the samba”, as opposed to celebrating the masses of world-class athletes that would be competing.


However, according to NBC’s chief marketing official John Miller, this is just catering to the games’ female audience who are “less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one”.


And NBC didn’t stop there. They’ve made demeaning comments about the USA women’s gymnastics team – after dominating the qualifications for the all round team medal, the ‘final five’ were discussing their performance, to which one commentator said “they might as well be standing in the middle of a mall”, attempting to take away the power of arguably the most formidable team in Olympic gymnastics history.

Olympic Men Stand Up to Sexism Too--Because That's Not Just Women's Work

Feminism! Fairness! Equality! These are not concepts that affect women alone. But boy, do we get tired of carrying the expectation that they are. So a big “Well done, gentlemen,” to Andy Murray and Adam van Koeverden, two male athletes who this week took a stand against sexist assumptions.

August 17, 2016 in Pop Culture, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Women's Olympics

The Forgotten History of Female Athletes Who Organized Their Own Olympics

The Olympics is a not a neutral event. Although Olympic organizers like to present the Games as an apolitical celebration, the way the Olympics are structured reflect the ideals of the elites who are most involved with organizing the event. As we approach the kickoff of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, it’s worth examining gender dynamics in the Games’ history—particularly looking at how female athletes were largely excluded from the Olympics for years as well as the often-overlooked activism of women who fought to compete internationally.


In the early 1900s, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) only allowed women to compete in a handful of events. Only 22 women took part in the games held in 1900. But in the early 1900s a worldwide women’s movement was demanding political inclusion, with some success. As women gained the right to vote in Europe, Russia, and the United States, behind the scenes, some IOC members were quietly moving to expand women’s participation. But IOC President Baron Pierre de Coubertin was implacable, angling for the continued marginalization of women’s sports. After the 1912 Stockholm Games, he and many of his IOC colleagues believed “an Olympiad with females would be impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and improper.”


The 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam was the first time that doubled the number of female participants: almost 300 women took part in the Games, thanks largely to the inclusion of a small slate of women’s track and field events. However, citing medical “evidence,” the IOC ruled after the Amsterdam Games that the 800-meter run was too dangerous. In Amsterdam, after completing the race, a number of competitors fell to the turf to regain their strength. Anti-feminists pounced at the opportunity, arguing that women were too frail to run such distances, and quite remarkably their views won out. Women were not allowed to compete in the 800-meter run until the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Still, in 1928 women comprised about 10 percent of all Olympic athletes.


The Olympics echoed the gender and class structures of the time, but marginalization sparked an innovative response. In the 1920s, dissident athletes teamed up in solidarity with sympathetic supporters to organize alternative athletic competitions rooted in principles of equality. To challenge IOC sexism, women and their allies organized alternative games, a vital yet largely forgotten act of political dissent. Everywhere women looked, the Olympic cards were stacked against them. The IOC, as led by Coubertin, opposed women’s full participation, as the minutes of the 1914 IOC general session made clear: “No women to participate in track and field, but as before—allowed to participate in fencing and swimming.”  Discrimination was baked into the master plans.


Enter Alice Milliat, a French athlete and activist whose bold actions scythed a path for women’s participation in the Games. After the exclusion of women from track and field in Antwerp, Milliat founded the Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI) on October 31, 1921. At its first meeting, the group voted to establish a Women’s Olympics as an alternative to the male-centric Games. In total four Women’s Games were staged, in 1922 (Paris), 1926 (Gothenburg, Sweden), 1930 (Prague), and 1934 (London), with participants coming mostly from North America, Western Europe, and Japan.

August 5, 2016 in Pop Culture, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 20, 2015

The US men's soccer team......

......never won the World Cup.  Ever.  They never even reached the finals.... or quarter finals.  For this failure they were paid FOUR TIMES more than the US women's soccer team, which won the World Cup.....three times.  

From the New Republic: 

n Sunday, the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) won the World Cup for the third time—more than any other team in women’s soccer history. For their efforts, the team will earn $2 million in prize money, up from $1 million in 2011. The money is awarded to the national federation, which usually distributes it between players and the organization itself. That’s not a bad sum—until it’s put into context. Last year, the U.S. men’s team was knocked out of the Round of 16 at the World Cup in Brazil—and pocketed $9 million for it. Germany, which went on to win the tournament, was awarded $35 million.

July 20, 2015 in Sports, Work/life, Workplace | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Serena Williams and woman's body image

Serena Williams won another Wimbledon title this weekend.  She is deservedly the most accomplished athlete--of any gender--for a sport.  

Alas, there are discussions regarding her body image and what said discussions say about how we think about gender.  

From the NYT:

Despite Williams’s success — a victory Saturday would give her 21 Grand Slam singles titles and her fourth in a row — body-image issues among female tennis players persist, compelling many players to avoid bulking up.

“It’s our decision to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10,” said Tomasz Wiktorowski, the coach of Agnieszka Radwanska, who is listed at 5 feet 8 and 123 pounds. “Because, first of all she’s a woman, and she wants to be a woman.”

For many, perceived ideal feminine body type can seem at odds with the best physique for tennis success. Andrea Petkovic, a German ranked 14th, said she particularly loathed seeing pictures of herself hitting two-handed backhands, when her arm muscles appear the most bulging.

“I just feel unfeminine,” she said. “I don’t know — it’s probably that I’m self-conscious about what people might say. It’s stupid, but it’s insecurities that every woman has, I think. I definitely have them and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I would love to be a confident player that is proud of her body. Women, when we grow up we’ve been judged more, our physicality is judged more, and it makes us self-conscious.”

July 15, 2015 in Manliness, Masculinities, Pop Culture, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Sympathy for the gals, scorn for the boys?

Those keeping up with the Women's World Cup know the story.  For those who don't, here it is: 

It was a soccer player’s worst nightmare. With seconds left in a World Cup semifinal on Wednesday, Laura Bassett of England lunged for the ball and accidentally kicked it into her own net.

Seconds later, the whistle blew. Japan had won, 2-1, and Bassett and many other England players were left in tears. And members of the sometimes vicious British news media sharpened their pens and offered ... sympathy?

The most common word in British newspaper and website headlines on Thursday was “heartbreak,” and photos of the weeping Bassett dominated the coverage.

England Women Have Done Their Country Proud,” The Times of London wrote. Even the tabloids were gentle, with The Mail grumbling that the better team had lost: “Own Goal Gives Japan Lucky Win Over Lionesses.”

Support came from all over, including from the former American players Brandi Chastain and Landon Donovan.

The reaction to Bassett’s error was in sharp contrast to the aftermath of high-profile World Cup failures by the England men’s team over the years. In a 1998 round-of-16 game against Argentina, David Beckham kicked out at Diego Simeone and was given a red card. The ejection seemed a little harsh, but sympathy for the 23-year-old Beckham was not forthcoming after England lost the game on penalties. The Mirror’s headline was typical: “10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy.”

The same thing--the own goal, as it is called in soccer--had befell Andres Escobar of Colombia in the 1994 World Cup.  Known as the "Gentleman of the Field," Escobar was publicly ridiculed by his countrymen (and countrywomen) for his mistake.  Eventually, someone murdered him.  

Brazil Wcup Colombia Euphoria-1.jpg

(photo of Escobar)

 This double standard for  men versus women for what is acceptable in the realms of the masculine (like World Cup soccer) seems to me one more instance of the unique burdens shouldered by men.  

July 3, 2015 in Manliness, Masculinities, Pop Culture, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Paying Female College Athletes

Erin Buzuvis (Western New England), Athletic Compensation for Women Too? Title IX Implications of Northwestern and O'Bannon41 Journal of College and Univ. Law 297 (2015)


The NCAA has been relying on Title IX requirements to defend its polices prohibiting compensation for college athletics; it argues that paying athletes in revenue sports, coupled with the commensurate obligation under Title IX to pay female athletes, would be prohibitively expensive. As a response to the NCAA’s argument, the Author seeks to advance two positions: first, that Title IX would, as argued by the NCAA, require payment of female athletes using some measure of equality; and, second, that athletes are being exploited by the present system. Ultimately, the Author reframes the application of Title IX to athlete compensation by proposing two alternative outcomes: either college athletics departments could reform their programs by curtailing the ways in which they have become overly commercialized programs and thus avoid the application of antitrust and labor laws, or they could reform themselves by abandoning their connection to education and the subsidy that comes with it.

June 9, 2015 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Bruce Jenner

There are some obvious reasons not to be sympathetic to Bruce Jenner's coming out:  for one, he lives with the Kardashians; for another, the coming out looks like a publicity ploy by an aging celebrity who had milked everything once of fame for his achievements in an obscure sport called the decathlon.  

But then there was the response by his family, which was admirable:

“I am at peace with what he is and what he’s doing,” his mother, Esther Jenner, said in a separately filmed portion of the two-hour segment. “I never thought I could be more proud of Bruce when he reached his goal in 1976, but I’m more proud of him now.” Kim Kardashian tweeted, “Love is the courage to live the truest, best version of yourself. Bruce is love. I love you Bruce. #ProudDaughter.” (Jenner told Sawyer that he first came out to Kim, and that she once walked in on him in a dress.)

Seventeen-year-old Kylie Jenner, Jenner’s youngest child, tweeted, “Understandingly, this has been very hard for me. You will hear what I have to say when I’m ready to but this isn’t about me. I’m so proud of you, Dad. You are so brave. My beautiful Hero.” In this unconditional and unquestioning way, the Kardashian and Jenner clans are defining what it means to be a family today. They may be superficial, but their support for Bruce is notable for its candid demonstration of acceptance.

April 27, 2015 in LGBT, Manliness, Masculinities, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cal Bill Would Treat Pro Team Cheerleaders as Employees

WaPo California Might Soon Require Pro Teams to Treat Cheerleaders as Employees

A California bill filed last week would require professional sports teams in the state to treat their cheerleaders as employees.


“NFL teams and their billionaire owners have used professional cheerleaders as part of the game day experience for decades,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D), the bill’s sponsor and a former collegiate cheerleader, said in a statement. “They have capitalized on their talents without providing even the most basic workplace protections like minimum wage.”


The bill, AB 202, would also cover overtime compensation and standards for working conditions. It comes after a class-action lawsuit was filed last year by two former cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders who accused the team of violating labor laws, including withholding pay until the end of the season and paying less than $5 an hour. California’s minimum wage is currently $9 an hour.

February 3, 2015 in Equal Employment, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 2, 2015

So Andy Murray Lost the Australian Open

But he did make a positive statement about gender identity. From a few days back was this article from the Guardian UK:

 Andy Murray’s clash with Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Opentennis tournament is the fourth time he’s made it to the ultimate round in Melbourne. On the past three occasions he lost – and he is the favourite to do so again. But whatever the result, the 27-year-old Scotsman has already scored a historic victory – for women.


After his semi-final victory over the Czech number seven seed, Tomas Berdych, Murray made an impressive speech in which he paid tribute to his coach, Amélie Mauresmo, and hailed the progress of female coaches in a sport that can sometimes appear reluctant to leave its colourfully sexist past behind.

“A lot of people criticised me for working with [Mauresmo],” Murray told the cameras and a delighted crowd. “And I think so far this week, women can be very good coaches as well. Madison Keys, who reached the semis here and had her best tournament, is also coached by a woman – Lindsay Davenport. I see no reason why that can’t keep moving forward like that in the future.

“I’m very thankful for Amélie for doing it. It was, I would say, a brave choice for her to do it and hopefully I can repay her in a few days.”


February 2, 2015 in Manliness, Masculinities, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

MN Passes Transgender School Athletic Policy

Minnesota Approves New Transgender-Friendly Policy for High School Athletes

The Minnesota State High School League approved a new transgender-friendly policy for high school athletes on Thursday. The new rules will allow transgender students to play on sports teams consistent with the gender they identify with. In layman’s terms, this means those born genetically female, but who identify with the male gender can try out for male teams and vice versa. The policy will go into effect at the start of the 2015-16 athletic year

December 6, 2014 in LGBT, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Artificial Turf as Gender Discrimination

When the men's championship is played on real grass, but the women's championships are played are artificial turf with its higher risk of injury and harm to players.

See National Law Rev, Turf War: Female Soccer Stars Sue FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association

More than 60 of the top female soccer players, including U.S. stars Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, have brought a lawsuit against the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA, the international governing body of football, asserting that the organizations’ decision to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf constitutes gender discrimination.  A men’s World Cup has never been played on artificial turf and the men will play the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments on grass.

November 11, 2014 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Women's Soccer Players Sue FIFA

The story: 

A group of top women’s soccer players from across the world on Wednesday sued the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, alleging gender discrimination around the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which Canada will host in June. NBC Sports first reported the lawsuit, which top players, including American stars Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, had threatened for months over FIFA and the CSA’s decision to hold the Women’s World Cup on artificial turf fields, a decision the players say makes the game more dangerous for them and would never happen for the men’s World Cup.

The lawsuit filed in Ontario by more than 40 international women’s players claims that the decision to hold the World Cup on turf is “inherently discriminatory” and violates Canadian human rights laws for three major reasons: that it changes the way the game is played, poses “unique and serious risks of injury,” and requires them to play on a “second-class surface.”

October 8, 2014 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

NBA Gets in the Game Too. Will Review Domestic Violence Policies

USA Today, Adam Silver: NBA Will Review Domestic Violence Policies

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Monday his league will "take a fresh look" at its domestic violence procedures in the wake of the NFL's rash of incidents.


Silver said during a community service event in Staten Island that the league has been discussing with the NBA Players Association ways to further educate players and provide programs to them and their families.


"We learn from other leagues' experiences," Silver said. "We're studying everything that's been happening in the NFL. We're working with our players' association. We've been talking for several weeks and we're going to take a fresh look at everything we do."

September 25, 2014 in Sports, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

NFL Brings in Women Advisors on Domestic Violence

Washington Post, Roger Goodell Names Four Women to Address Domestic Violence, Social Issues in NFL

After a week of unprecedented bad publicity, the NFL has hired four women to shape new policies on domestic violence and sexual assault.


The announcement was something of a mixed message, coming just moments before the Minnesota Vikings announced that Adrian Peterson, who was arrested Saturday for recklessly or negligently injuring a child, was cleared to play Sunday.


Commissioner Roger Goodell made the announcement in a letter to owners, writing that the goal is “to make a real difference on these and other issues.”


Anna Isaacson, currently a league vice-president of community relations and philanthropy, assumed the additional title of vice-president of social responsibility. She will oversee initiatives aimed at raising awareness about the issues and decreasing the instances of violence. Lisa Friel, Jane Randel and Rita Smith were hired as senior advisers because of their experience with the issues. Friel is the former head of sex-crimes prosecution for the Manhattan district attorney; Randel is a co-founder of NO MORE, an advocacy group focusing on domestic violence and sexual assault; and Smith is former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

September 16, 2014 in Sports, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cheerleaders Settle Lawsuit for Minimum Wage

From Slate, The Oakland Raiders Finally Gave Their Cheerleaders Minimum Wage. Yay?

The two Raiderette cheerleaders who revolted against the team this year—suing the Oakland Raiders for paying them less than minimum wage, withholding paychecks until the end of the season, and never reimbursing them for business expenses—have declared victory. Lacy T. and Sarah G., who filed a class-action suit on behalf of their fellow Raiderettes this spring, have reached a settlement with the NFL franchise. The team will pay out a total of $1.25 million to 90 women who cheered between 2010 and 2013. That translates to an average $6,000 payout per cheerleader per season for the first three seasons covered by the suit, and an average of $2,500 each for the final season. (Right before Lacy’s lawsuit hit, the Raiders unexpectedly padded the 2013 cheerleaders’ checks with additional cash). According to Sharon Vinick, lawyer for the Raiderettes, future Raider cheerleaders will be paid minimum wage for all hours worked, receive checks every two weeks, and be reimbursed for business expenses they incur in the course of the job.


“We are excited that the Raiders have decided to pay their current cheerleaders in accordance with the law,” Sarah G. said in a statement through her attorney. “This was our goal and I am pleased to say I was a part of an organization whose management decided to make these changes. Now we can just go back to dancing, being respected and taking down the Niners when they try to step onto our field!”


Is the settlement fair? $1.25 million sure sounds like a big number, and for many current and former Raiderettes, the split ain’t bad: The women who cheered for all four seasons covered by the suit could stand to receive checks for more than $20,000. (As for the naysaying cheerleaders who complained that Lacy T. and Sarah G. were making them look bad by speaking up: If they fail to cash their checks, the money will be donated to Girls Inc., an Alameda County nonprofit that provides enrichment activities for local girls.)

September 9, 2014 in Equal Employment, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Pink Locker Room

Saturday, August 30, 2014

NFL Adopts Stricter Penalty for Players' Domestic Abuse

NFL Lays Out New Penalty for Domestic Violence: 6-Game Suspension

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has announced new guidelines for how the league will handle incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault. The change in policy, explained an open letter to team owners, come a month after the NFL was criticized for how it handled player Ray Rice's arrest on domestic violence charges.


Goodell says that the new policies were developed after conversations with outside experts, team owners and the NFL Players Association. The open letter describes several ways in which the NFL plans to provide training, support and resources to personnel, players and their families. It also sets down guidelines for how sexual assault and domestic abuse will be punished in the future.

August 30, 2014 in Sports, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Women Judges Can't Decide Sports Cases

Local Mom Decides Important Sports Case.  Sportcasters have discounted federal judge Claudia Wilken who decided O'Bannon v. NCAA, the landmark case that challenged the NCAA’s longstanding treatment of its college athletes, by describing her as "local PTA mom."   Its not her Stanford or Berkeley education nor decades of legal and judicial experience that informed her decision, but her motherly work on the PTA.

[NYT Sportswriter] writes that her “decision [in O’Bannon] may be interpreted much the way her advice at school meetings often was: Let’s work it out, through dialogue and compromise.” If decades of legal experience can’t explain what made Wilken capable of presiding over the O'Bannon case, perhaps her stint in the PTA will.

August 21, 2014 in Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

NBA and Equal Employment for Women

It's been a big week for the National Basketball League.

  • A team, the San Antonio Spurs, hired WNBA player Becky Hammon in what has been billed as the "first full-time female assistant" coach.  (Although she's really the second, as Lisa Boyer worked for the Cleveland Cavaliers as an assistant coach in 2001-02).  See Spurs Hire Becky Hammon, NBA's 2nd Female Assistant Coach
  • The NBA players' union hired Skaden attorney Michele Roberts as executive director.  Her impressive resume is here.

But the naysaying has already begun.  See Male Basketball Coach Says a Female Coach Could Never Mold Could Never "Mold Boys into Successful Men" saying that women could never coach college basketball.  Although men coach college women. 

August 9, 2014 in Equal Employment, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)