The New York Times reports today that five key members of the US women’s national soccer team have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging U.S. Soccer, the private federation that oversees soccer in the United States, with wage discrimination. It seems that, on average (see the article for details), the federation pays women players considerably less than players on the men’s team, and that may be a problem under current law.
If Thomas Jefferson only knew what would follow from writing “All men are created equal.” What he meant, of course, was only that we all have equal rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and we’re free to pursue happiness however we think best. Most of us do that through voluntary association with others, which can result in all kinds of inequalities, yet violate the rights of no one. After all, whose rights are violated if Mia Hamm negotiates a salary with the team that is higher than a lesser player negotiates?
“Equality” hasn’t been pressed that far yet, but its life is still unfolding. In higher education, for example, we have Title IX to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended over the years, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. And that has led in stages to everything from the abolition of countless college men’s athletic programs, due to a paucity of female participants in equivalent programs, and more recently to sexual harassment charges against even female professors who write articles that some students find offensive, to college kangaroo-court trials of students charged with sexual assault, and much more.
Here at issue is the Equal Pay Act of 1963, part of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended and as administered and enforced by the EEOC. As one might imagine, the very idea of enforcing equal pay for “equal” work is fraught with peril, as the reams of exceptions in the Act only hint at. (Don’t take my word for that; read the Act.) Not surprisingly, the Act has become a full employment scheme for lawyers and a hammer for special-interest politicians.
When the EEOC is called on to see that women in the WNBA are paid the same as Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and other NBA stars, maybe we’ll see this “fairness” fiasco seriously called into question. But don’t bet on it.