John Wolohan and Laura Bowman's article "Check Swing" (nice!) in the current issue of Athletic Business explores the legal issues surrounding the gender gap in coaching salaries, an issue that has been receiving some press lately.
The authors examine the Equal Pay Act's applicability to coaches' salaries using as an example a lawsuit by Cara Hankinson, who sued the Thomas County, Georgia school district to challenge the salary she was paid as the softball coach, which was less than what the baseball coach was paid. The district court had denied her claim, but the Eleventh Circuit reversed the ruling and required the district court to determine whether the baseball coach's job is substantially similar to Hankinson's job coaching softball, as she had alleged. In Thomas County, the baseball coach's responsibilities included more games, longer games, and more players that the softball coach, but on the other hand, the baseball coach was given more assistant coaches to help him out. This made the similarity of the jobs in subject to dispute, and thus inappropriate to dismiss without a trial.
The authors point out that the court's reasoning is consistent with the guidance that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides (Notice No. 915.002) on this issue. The EEOC says that while coaching positions are substantially similar, there are legitimate justifications for paying coaches different salaries, such as the market value of the coach's particular skills and qualifications, different levels of experience, and a greater range of duties. It remains to be seen whether Thomas County can successfully prove that the baseball coach had a greater range of duties to justify his higher salary. But, as the authors conclude, what is clear is that "the gender of the coach — or of the athletes under the coach's care — is not considered an acceptable factor in trying to justify paying one coach less than another."