Olivia Moultrie moved another step closer to signing a professional contract on Thursday, when a judge granted the 15-year-old a preliminary injunction against the National Women’s Soccer League’s age rule.
The ruling follows the temporary restraining order which Moultrie was granted against the NWSL last month in the antitrust lawsuit she filed against the NWSL, and it prohibits the NWSL from enforcing its age rule in order to prevent Moultrie from signing a contract. An NWSL spokesperson said on Friday that the league plans to appeal the decision:
“The district court’s ruling makes clear and affirms NWSL’s long-held position that whether NWSL has an ‘Age Rule’ should ultimately be determined through collective bargaining with the NWSL Players Association. Because Federal labor law requires that issues such as eligibility for employment be decided through collective bargaining and not the courts when there is a recognized union and ongoing collective bargaining, the NWSL will file a notice of an expedited appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to address those and other errors in the district court’s opinion. Out of deference to the collective bargaining process and the NWSL Players Association, NWSL will not comment further on the litigation.”
Moultrie’s NWSL rights were recently acquired by the Portland Thorns via a trade with OL Reign, who had first acquired Moultrie’s rights once she was made “discoverable” by the league earlier this month. The Reign were the first to file a discovery claim on Moultrie through the league’s first-come discovery process. Upon Judge Karin J. Immergut’s granting of a temporary restraining order for Moultrie against the NWSL in May, the NWSL said it needed time to create a special discovery process. That ultimately did not happen, and a source close to the league previously told The Equalizer earlier this month that the NWSL Players Association rejected the idea of a special discovery process because it rejects the discovery process entirely.
In a court hearing last week, it was revealed that the Thorns had submitted a draft of a contract for Moultrie, along with a compliance plan to create a safe work space for a minor. (Among the NWSL’s arguments, which Judge Immergut repeatedly dismissed, is that the cost of creating a compliant workspace would be prohibitive.) Moultrie could soon sign and be eligible to play for Portland.
The NWSL has maintained throughout the case that it has long had an 18-year-old age limit, and that, since the league is currently in talks with the NWSLPA to sign a collective bargaining agreement for the first time since the league kicked off in 2013, Moultrie’s lawsuit will interfere with the bargaining process. However, the ruling in the Moultrie case would not affect any age limit which could be negotiated into the collective bargaining agreement.
Judge Immergut has said throughout the case that the case was a matter of gender equity, citing that Moultrie would be able to sign a contract with MLS as a 15-year-old boy. She reiterated that on Thursday, stating that “the balance of equities and the public interest strongly favor affording girls in the United States the same opportunities as boys.”
Judge Immergut’s ruling that the NWSL is not a single entity, but a collection of separate teams competing against each other for players, could have implications beyond the Moultrie case. Collectively bargained rules and restrictions can protect a league from antitrust scrutiny, but the NWSL remains without a CBA for the moment. If the age-limit rule is considered to violate antitrust laws, it opens the door to the idea that many other NWSL rules and regulations are, too.
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