The Washington Post reports that the University of Tennessee recently rejected an internal complaint filed by three employees of women’s athletics, arguing that their salaries were discriminatory because they were less than their counterparts in men’s athletics. The employees held the positions of Athletics Director for Women’s Sports Medicine, Assistant Athletics Director for Women’s Strength and Conditioning, and the Associate Director for Women’s Strength and Conditioning, until the recent merger of men’s and women’s athletics at Tennessee.
The University of Tennessee’s Office of Equity and Diversity denied their pay discrimination claims after determining that the women’s athletics were not comparable to the positions in men’s athletics to justify equal pay. Specifically, the Office stated that due to the financial importance of football to the university, the sports medicine/strength & conditioning employees in men’s athletics had a more important job because it mattered more financially that male athletes were healthy:
Football overwhelmingly is the top revenue-generating sport in Athletics and the sport that generates the most fan interest,” the report says. “If the University’s football team is successful, then the entire Athletics program reaps the monetary benefits. If the University’s football team is unsuccessful even partly because football injuries are not being prevented, diagnosed, treated and rehabilitated successfully, then the entire Athletics program suffers. “With no disrespect being intended to Ms. Moshak [Athletic Director for Women’s Sports Medicine], Mr. McVeigh’s position [Director of Men’s Sports Medicine] is more important to athletics because of his football-related responsibilities.”
With this statement, the University of Tennessee declares its true intentions in running an athletic department — not, as its mission statement conveys, to enrich the education of student athletes, but to exploit the revenue-generating potential of certain sports. Aside from being hypocritical and morally void, this position also suggests that the University is (or was in the recent past prior to the merger) violating Title IX with respect to its athletes, as the law requires equal treatment when it comes to “medical and training facilities and services.” And the law contains no exception for football or any sport because of its capacity to generate revenue.
Nor is it clear whether football’s revenue justifies paying men’s medical and training staff more. If this case made its way to the EEOC, the federal agency that enforces Title VII and the Equal Pay Act, it would consider whether the medical and training staff that McVeigh oversees is comparable in size to Moshak’s. Yes, it may take more work to keep the football team healthy, but if you get a larger staff as a result, you can’t use “football takes more work” as a justification for unequal pay. Another factor that the EEOC would consider is whether men’s and women’s athletics received equal opportunity to generate revenue. If the university allocated fewer resources to market and promote women’s teams, it can’t use the fact that men’s teams bring in more revenue to justify pay disparities between men’s and women’s athletics.
The article does not suggest what’s next for this case. Now that the university’s decision is final, having been approved by the President on internal appeal, it will be interesting to see if the employees press their claims with the EEOC. And though its less likely, it would be even more interesting to see if someone presses the disparity in medical training as a violation of Title IX.