The court of public opinion vs. the court of law.
A differentiation that appears to be a forgotten concept today. Whether it be an alleged assault against a player or equal pay between genders in sport, there are things completely ignored with today’s fans that show why the court of law is needed an in place, and why courts do not follow the populous regarding rulings.
The court of public opinion has become so contentious and stubborn that it has led many to believe the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) for soccer were unfairly ruled against in past weeks when U.S. District Court Judge Gary Klausner issued summary judgment against the team’s Equal Pay Act claim.
(Note: Background on the USWNT claims here.)
A claim they made against the US Soccer Federation (USSF) for unequal payment for similar performance, and easily argued better performance, to the men’s national squad.
While shock and outrage enveloped much of the soccer world with supporters backing the team in their fight, team members pleading their case to podcasts and the likes of Good Morning America, to the presidential nominee Joe Biden issuing an ill-advised take on the matter, they all are misguided on why Klausner’s ruling was the correct one.
While a setback to the USWNT’s fight for equal pay, a fight I believe there is a solution to remedy, it was a necessary haymaker and one the players and supporters need to grasp.
It is beyond me that player spokesperson, Molly Levinson, stated, “We are shocked and disappointed with today’s decision, but we will not give up our hard work for equal pay,” because not only has precedent been set by thousands of cases but also the logic behind summary judgment and the case brought forth by the plaintiffs.
So why was summary judgment correct? Let’s dive deeper:
Why the Summary Judgment Ruling was Correct:
Equal Pay Act cases are extraordinarily difficult to win in court. With the standard of what constitutes discriminatory compensation off the basis of gender being high, it would have been in the USWNT’s best interest to settle.
That’s where it gets interesting.
Before Klausner could rule on the claim, he had to go back and focus on what is needed for Equal Pay Act claims to be met in the court of law.
From the court briefs, under EPA claims the Supreme Court has ruled that it is the plaintiff’s burden to establish a prima facie case of wage discrimination. Prima facie is described as an argument sufficient to establish a fact or raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted.
For the USWNT to establish this, they had to achieve three things:
- Prove they performed substantially equal work as the men’s players,
- under similar working conditions, and
- the men were paid more.
That is where Klausner took issue with what was presented.
Hence summary judgment which states, “In order to succeed in a motion for summary judgment, a movant must show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
He found that due to the amount of alleged competing evidence on record regarding the equal pay claim, it doesn’t always equate to there being a dispute in “material fact”.
From the CBA the women negotiated and accepted, albeit due to their feeling it was the only way to guarantee some form of proper compensation, to Klausner’s belief that many of their arguments had little to add to the central claim of pay discrimination, the summary judgment isn’t all too surprising as the USWNT failed to establish the core tenants to move forth with the claim.
As Neil Blackmon, a civil attorney in Miami, a friend, and fellow Gator wrote, “there was always a decent chance U.S. Soccer would prevail in court. The U.S. Women’s argument for wage discrimination was a difficult one because it essentially asked the Court to evaluate the claim based on the USWNT’s interpretation of the compensation structure.”
With the USWNT claiming they were discriminated through being paid less than the men on a per-game and tournament basis, the USSF countered with their claims of the negotiated CBA and bringing in economist experts to back that the women’s pay included all “wages” leading to them making more than the men per-game.
This led Klausner to be more concerned with the bottom line and CBA guarantees, something the men do not have, instead of the differences in structure of the compensation.
While it may not be a concrete reasoning, this is what judges can do when it comes to rulings. And based of the law, his ruling fits in justly with mass amounts of precedent.
People may not like it, a lot don’t, but the court of public opinion needs to learn to take a back seat sometimes and let things play out in a system that has been just and correct in the past.
You Get What You Negotiate For…Sometimes:
Output-based standards for comparing contract value is a slippery slope and why obtaining more information before becoming a Twitter social justice warrior, on any side of an argument mind you, would help bring our nation’s deep divide together. Allowing us to discuss and debate instead of becoming more entrenched in our ways of thinking and being open to alternate ideas.
With the CBAs negotiated by the men and women, Klausner took aim at the additional benefits the WNT received in comparison to their counterparts such as guaranteed salaries and severance pay, and he believed those to be ‘insurance’ protections for the women.
The WNT clearly latched onto the vast economic value in their agreement as they were willing to agree to the lower bonuses from the USSF in exchange for fixed payments.
Additionally, under the Equal Protection Act and Title VII, it is not required for every individual to receive the same deal. In this case a protected floor for the women and still securing more earnings than the men in the period at hand.
Now, this one ruling isn’t the end of the road for the USWNT’s fight for more equitable, not equal, compensation and treatment. Klausner ruled in favor of the team on the team’s two other claims on inferior working conditions and the team is appealing the summary judgment.
Although only a partial summary judgment, meaning the attorneys for the WNT would need to file an interlocutory appeal, it will drag this case on for some time. Especially with COVID-19 being at the forefront of our society.
Again, I am not saying the women are not right or wrong to fight for what they believe in. Instead, before pouncing on a decision without the proper information solely due to something like success, in this situation, to gain all the tangible evidence and information needed to make a more informed opinion. Something that a vast majority of our nation’s citizens completely fail to understand.
If the USWNT really want to take this to the next level, they would go after FIFA for their bonus structure and payouts but would likely face even larger and more difficult roadblocks on an international scale.
The law doesn’t care about your feelings. If you want to be respected when it comes to arguing points like this, gather the information, read up on the topic from a multitude of sources, and think before you speak. Not saying I have been immune to that.
The fight isn’t over for either side, but as of now with the information presented, things are not looking bright for the USWNT.