Athlete Fired Over Pregnancy Battles Team

Italy debates lack of legal protections for women in sports
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2021 5:40 PM CST
Athlete Fired Over Pregnancy Battles Team
Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, center, president of the Italian Senate, criticized the firing of Lara Lugli.   (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

An Italian volleyball player's legal fight with her club after she became pregnant and was fired has led to a debate that has involved national political leaders. Among other issues, the case highlights Italy's lack of legal protections for female professional athletes, the New York Times reports. When Lara Lugli, the team's captain, sued over salary she said her employer owed her, the club countered that her pregnancy ruined its season. Volley Maniago Pordenone said it lost money as its play worsened after she left, and sponsors dropped out. Lugli had a miscarriage in April 2019, a month after her contract was canceled. In court documents, the club blamed Lugli for "hiding her desire to be a mother." She could have returned for the last two months after her miscarriage, even if she sat on the bench, the team argued in the filings. Lugli then went public with her story, saying: "Comparing a pregnancy to bad behavior is simply so low. This is not something just about me."

The speaker of the Italian Senate, Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, called Lugli's treatment "violence against women," per the Guardian. The foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, posted, "To think that a woman today is forced to choose between a child and her career is no longer tolerable." Many female athletes in Italy are classified as amateurs, with fewer legal protections than those considered professionals, though they are paid to play a sport. "It was a compromise that all female athletes always accepted," Lugli said. "When you get pregnant, the contract ends." A team official put the problem on the government. "It's the law that must be changed," he said. The team said that Lugli's contract was ended by mutual agreement, which avoided triggering penalties against the player for quitting before it expired. When Lugli sued for the pay, the team said, it acted to protect itself. The Italian Olympic Committee expressed its support for Lugli, per the New Zealand Herald, and invited her to a meeting on the issue. (More female athletes stories.)

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