Juventus midfielder Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir had to fight for her paycheck after she got pregnant. Gunnarsdóttir detailed her legal battle with Lyon, her former club, in an article at The Players' Tribune on Tuesday.
Gunnarsdóttir, who played for Lyon for two seasons, said the team stopped paying her once she left the club due to her pregnancy in 2021. Gunnarsdóttir initially played during the first few weeks of her pregnancy, but eventually left the team and returned to Iceland — her home country — to experience the rest of her pregnancy.
After leaving the team, Gunnarsdóttir's first paycheck from Lyon didn't arrive on time. She thought a mistake had been made until teammates said they were paid on schedule. Upon contacting Lyon, she was reportedly told the team would stop paying her after two months. The team said it was following French law. Gunnarsdóttir believed the team should have followed FIFA rules.
She looked into her options. The players union in France and FIFPRO, a "global union for professional football players," also got involved. Upon being informed Gunnarsdóttir was willing to take the issue to FIFA, Lyon's club director reportedly said, "If Sara goes to FIFA with this, she has no future in Lyon at all."
Gunnarsdóttir continued to train throughout her pregnancy, and paid to work with a strength coach every day. She fully intended to return to Lyon once she gave birth.
Gunnarsdóttir had her son, Ragnar, and returned to Lyon but said she was treated differently once she was back. The team didn't want her to bring Ragnar on road trips, saying the baby could disrupt other players. Gunnarsdóttir was still breastfeeding at the time and needed to be with Ragnar. Gunnarsdóttir feared she would miss away games if the team stood firm on the issue. The club reportedly said Ragnar could come on two trips to test things out. Gunnarsdóttir said she "wasn’t comfortable with [Ragnar] being 'tested,'" and balked at the idea. She said she was made to feel like having a baby was a negative.
Gunnarsdóttir eventually met with the club director. During that meeting, team president Jean-Michel Aulas reportedly ignored Gunnarsdóttir.
The president also walked into the room while I was there. It was the first time he had seen me since I had returned with my baby. He didn’t even greet me, didn’t look at or acknowledge Ragnar. But Vincent had just reassured me, five minutes before, regarding the case, that “it wasn’t personal.” After that moment, with the president, it was clear that it was.
Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir wins lawsuit against Lyon
Gunnarsdóttir continued to fight the issue. With the help of FIFPRO, Gunnarsdóttir was eventually paid her full salary while she was away from the team due to her pregnancy.
Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir’s landmark ruling against former club Olympique Lyonnais sends a clear message to clubs and footballers worldwide:
The strict application of maternity rights is enforceable.
🔗 https://t.co/SmInzY0xBs pic.twitter.com/aXd4zbazFm
— FIFPRO (@FIFPRO) January 17, 2023
That decision came down in May.
Lyon requested more information from FIFA on that decision, which led Gunnarsdóttir to believe the club would appeal the ruling. That may have changed once Lyon received FIFA's reasoning, according to Gunnarsdóttir.
They talked about the “duty of care” of the club, that there was no contact with me during my pregnancy. No one was really checking on me, following up, seeing how I was doing mentally and physically, both as an employee, but also as a human being. Basically, they had a responsibility to look after me, and they didn’t. After Lyon received the grounds, they decided not to appeal.
Gunnarsdóttir said she wanted to share her story to show other players they have rights, and to make sure no other player has her experience.