On the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, Ballard Spahr is being recognized by the American Bar Association for helping women athletes win equal opportunity on the playing field through its trailblazing pro bono efforts spanning two decades. Today, the firm will receive the 2012 Frances Perkins Public Service Award from the ABA’s Section of Labor and Employment Law in Atlanta.

A number of female athletes—individuals and teams—have relied on Ballard Spahr’s pro bono counsel in their fight to gain a foothold and carve out careers in the world of professional sports. One example is the Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. women’s soccer team, whose members sought the assistance of Labor and Employment partner John B. Langel on questions involving their contract with the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Mr. Langel, who will accept the award on behalf of the firm, began working with the team on a pro bono basis in 1998. Since then, he and his colleagues, including firm Chair Mark S. Stewart, have helped the women renegotiate their contract with U.S. Soccer, organize a lucrative victory tour following their 1999 World Cup win (which continues today), and start two professional women’s soccer leagues. As a result of the firm’s efforts, the women now earn a really nice living.

“Ballard Spahr has an unwavering commitment to helping women athletes in their ongoing battle to create a level playing field,” said Mr. Langel, who led the Labor and Employment Group at Ballard Spahr for more than three decades and is currently the firm’s Litigation Department Chair. “I’m proud of what the firm has accomplished along with these dedicated women, who have shown incredible tenacity in their drive to win the right to compete and the right to equitable wages and benefits for their athletic talents. I’m pleased that the attorneys who have worked tirelessly in support of this cause are being honored for their commitment.”

Mr. Langel’s pro bono practice has focused on women’s teams—his other clients have included the U.S. women’s hockey and softball teams and the Women’s Sports Foundation, which he assisted in developing its “Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Athletes' Rights in Olympic and Amateur Sports,” an education guide published by the foundation. He is not alone. Mark R. Gaylord, a Litigation Department partner in the firm’s Salt Lake City office, has devoted his pro bono work to individual female athletes. He successfully represented Kelly Milligan, a cross-country skier, in a 2001 grievance proceeding after she was denied the right to compete in several events during the lead-up to the U.S. championships.

Mr. Gaylord also successfully defended a female mountain biker who was charged with a doping violation when she failed to show up for testing; she was exonerated. And in the run-up to the 2006 Olympics, he represented a group of female team athletes who accused their coach of sexual harassment. The U.S. Olympic Committee ultimately fired the coach.

Ballard Spahr’s pro bono support of female athletes further extends to partnering with nonprofit advocacy groups, helping female athletes establish and operate charitable organizations, and providing legal assistance to local organizations that give girls and women the opportunity to compete.

Said Mr. Stewart: “Few of us have the opportunity to make the kind of enduring difference John Langel has made through his groundbreaking work on behalf of women athletes. If you have a daughter who participated in athletics, you have benefited from John’s commitment to equality in sports. Through his work, and the work of other Ballard Spahr lawyers, women have more opportunities and our daughters have real role models in sports. John is a superb lawyer, and we are immensely proud to have him as our partner, and I am personally fortunate to call him my friend. This is an incredible honor for John and for the firm.”

The Frances Perkins Public Service Award recognizes individuals or organizations that demonstrate a significant commitment to providing pro bono legal services primarily in the areas of labor and employment law to persons of limited means or to nonprofit, governmental, civic, community, or religious organizations whose mission is to meet the needs of such individuals. It is named after Frances Perkins, appointed in 1933 by President Franklin Roosevelt as Secretary of Labor and instrumental in the creation of the Social Security Act.