With New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman by her side, Chief Administrative Officer of Major League Soccer (MLS) JoAnn Neale announced in March 2014 that the sports organization was stepping up its efforts to prevent harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation both on and off the field. The initiative, titled “Don’t Cross the Line,” will become effective at the start of the 2014 soccer season.
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According to Neale, the MLS is taking several steps to strengthen its existing anti-discrimination policies as they relate to sexual orientation. First, the League is revising company manuals and expanding training programs for players and other employees about discrimination and harassment. In addition, the MLS is making it easier for employees to make a harassment or discrimination complaint by creating a single point of contact who will handle such issues. Moreover, the MLS will revise its Player Code of Conduct to make it clear that anyone who files a discrimination complaint or assists in such an investigation will not face retaliation.
Speaking about the strengthened policies, Neale stated, “Our MLS WORKS ‘Don’t Cross the Line’ initiative is a strong statement that we are a league that stands against discrimination. We are committed to providing a safe environment where everyone is treated equally, and with dignity and respect.”
In addition to providing training, the MLS will also place posters in home and visitor locker rooms reminding players of the League’s policies. The poster states that players are prohibited from telling jokes, insults or slurs that demean people for their sexual orientation. The poster also prohibits unwelcome physical contact, such as grabbing or touching. Moreover, the code of conduct prevents players from posting pornography in lockers, bulletin boards or anywhere else; it even prohibits players from sending pornography to co-workers electronically, including texts or emails. Finally, the poster encourages players to report other players who are engaging in harassing or discriminatory behavior. The policy reminds players, “It doesn’t matter if you’re on the field, on-line, tweeting, or talking to reporters or fans. You’re always representing MLS and must conduct yourself with the honor that reflects positively on the League.”
The MLS’s announcement came several months after several other large sports organizations, such as the National Football League, came out with enhanced policies against discrimination based on sexual orientation. After hearing media reports that the NFL was asking draft picks questions about sexual orientation, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman met with league officials about the matter. Shortly thereafter, Major League Baseball also announced commitments similar to those of the NFL and MLS.
Commenting on MLS’ zero-tolerance policy against discrimination, Schneiderman remarked, “Harassment and discrimination in the workplace–whether in an office building, on the soccer field or a baseball diamond–are illegal. My office is committed to ensuring equal protection under the law for all employers no matter where they work, and I applaud Major League Soccer for working cooperative with us to promote a culture of inclusion. Together, we are sending a powerful message that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated in any form in the world of major league sports.”
If you were the victim of discrimination or harassment in the workplace, or if you are an employer seeking to understand your obligations under discrimination laws, contact the law firm of Villanueva & Sanchala at (800) 893-9645 to arrange an appointment for a confidential consultation.
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