Olivia Moultrie, a 15-year-old rising star in the NWSL's Portland Thorns youth academy, has filed an antitrust lawsuit against the league for an age restriction that prevents her from playing in competitive first-team matches.
Maxine Bernstein of The Oregonian reported Tuesday that Moultrie and her father, K.C. Moultrie, are seeking a temporary injunction that would allow the standout midfielder to play in the league's 2021 season, which starts May 15, until the case is settled.
"Ms. Moultrie does not seek an order from this Court awarding her a contract or a roster slot," her lawyers wrote in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland. "Rather, she seeks removal of an unlawful barrier to her participation."
Moultrie has already been taking part in Thorns practices and preseason fixtures, but she isn't eligible to sign an NWSL contract that would allow her to play in official games until she turns 18.
ESPN's Jeff Carlisle provided a statement from the league, which argued the age limit should be settled as part of the ongoing talks with the Players Association about a collective bargaining agreement, not in a federal lawsuit:
"The league is engaged in collective bargaining with the NWSL Players Association, which is the appropriate place according to Federal labor law for issues regarding terms and conditions of employment to play out. Age requirements are a common feature of many men's and women's professional leagues in the U.S. and abroad.
"The rules that govern league operations are in place to support players and team operators and ensure the NWSL remains the premier women's soccer league in the world. We will vigorously defend our league against this litigation because it seeks to change a long-standing rule and interferes with the collective bargaining process."
Moultrie's lawsuit notes the MLS, the top-level men's professional league in the United States, doesn't have an age requirement, nor do most of the professional leagues around the world, per Bernstein.
"Ms. Moultrie would be eligible to play in MLS if she were male, would be able to play in France if she were French, etc., stretching throughout most of the international soccer world," her attorneys wrote. "Ms. Moultrie is in the wrong country, and the wrong gender, to take advantage of her soccer precocity. And illegally so."
Moultrie, who signed an endorsement contract with Nike at the age of 13, has received support from members of the U.S. women's national team:
"It's always been a dream of mine to play professionally in the U.S.," she said in a statement provided by her lawyers to The Athletic. "I know girls my age are competing around the world and I just want to get on the field and officially compete."
Along with monetary damages, the lawsuit states the age rule is preventing the California native from playing professionally, which would help her chances of featuring for the USWNT in major events like this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Moultrie has featured for the U.S. at the youth international level, but she hasn't played for the senior national team.