September 21, 2016

Question of the Week: Is Hope Solo’s Suspension Retaliation for Equal Pay Whistleblowing?

By the C|C Whistleblower Lawyer Team

In August, U.S. Soccer suspended and terminated the contract of star goalkeeper Hope Solo for what it described as “conduct that is counter to the organization’s principles.” Solo’s critical comments after Sweden eliminated the U.S. team from the Olympics allegedly elicited this harsh penance. In the immediate aftermath of an emotionally charged game, Solo called the Sweden team “a bunch of cowards” for their conservative style of play.

While Solo rightfully admitted that this was not her finest display of sportswomanship, her conduct did not seem to rise to a level warranting termination for one of U.S. Soccer’s most decorated athletes. Rich Nichols, the general counsel for the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association highlighted the apparent gender-bias of the punishment:

Given the cited conduct and alleged policy violation, we believe the proposed discipline to be excessive, unprecedented, disproportionate and a violation of Ms. Solo’s First Amendment Rights. We also question whether this action would ever have been taken against a male player or coach, who in the heated moments after a frustrating defeat, questioned the tactics of the opposing team.

Even more concerning is that Solo and other top players on the women’s team recently filed a federal complaint accusing U.S. Soccer of wage discrimination. The women’s team often makes as little as 40 percent of what their male counterparts earn—despite its third World Cup championship last year and the associated rising revenues. While the case is still pending, U.S. Soccer vehemently argues that the pay disparity is based upon factors other than gender.

Solo is far from convinced that there is not a causal link between her fight for equal pay and what seems to be an objectively strict sentence for fairly innocuous statements. “Seventeen years on this team, and then to be treated this way in the end is not surprising from U.S. Soccer, to be honest,” Solo said. “I feel like I’m being pushed out because it can’t be based off performance, my health. It can’t be based off anything but they don’t like me, because they know I’ve been fighting so hard for equal pay.”

What do you think: Is Hope Solo’s Suspension Retaliation for Equal Pay Whistleblowing?

Is Hope Solo’s Suspension Retaliation for Equal Pay Whistleblowing?

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