The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team took a big step in its ongoing wage dispute with the U.S. Soccer Federation on Friday — which, not coincidentally, was International Women’s Day — when it filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the organization.
“Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts,” the complaint, filed by all 28 members of the USWNT in United States District Court in Los Angeles, states.
“This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players — with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions.”
Indeed, the USWNT has won three World Cup titles, most recently in 2015, and is one of the favorites headed into the 2019 Women’s World Cup this summer in France. It is currently the top-ranked women’s soccer team in the world. The men’s team failed to even qualify for last year’s men’s World Cup.
In the suit, which was first reported by the New York Times, the players are requesting back pay and damages, as they allege that “institutionalized gender discrimination” by USSF has impacted everything from their bank accounts to their living situations — including their health care, coaching, and even travel accommodations.
This is an escalation of a long-standing battle between the women and the federation that employs them. Three years ago, five USWNT players filed a wage-discrimination lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, there has been no movement on that lawsuit, which led the players to request and receive a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC last month. With this new lawsuit, the players are seeking class-action status, so they can represent any current or former USWNT player dating back to February 4, 2014. Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Carli Lloyd — four of the most talented and high-profile soccer players in the world — are the lead plaintiffs on the suit.
Two years ago, after a lengthy #EqualPlayEqualPay campaign, the USWNT and USSF ratified a new collective bargaining agreement that improved pay and travel accommodations, and provided the players’ union with more control over licensing and marketing rights. However, the new lawsuit makes clear that the new CBA did not go far enough to address inequities between the men’s and women’s teams.
In reality, the USSF has utterly failed to promote gender equality. It has stubbornly refused to treat its female employees who are members of the WNT equally to its male employees who are members of the MNT. The USSF, in fact, has admitted that it pays its female player employees than its male player employees and has gone so far as to claim that ‘market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men.’ The USSF admits such purposeful gender discrimination even during times when the WNT earned more profit, played more games, won more games, earned more championships, and/or garnered higher television audiences.
According to the suit, from 2013 to 2016, a comparison of the WNT and MNT pay shows that if each team played 20 friendlies in a year and each team won all 20 friendlies, female WNT players would earn a maximum of $99,000, or $4,950 per game, while similarly situated male MNT players would earn an average of $263,320, or $13,166 per game.
It also goes into detail about the fact that not only are the female players earning far less than male players, despite having far more success, they’re actually playing more matches for the federation as well.
In light of the WNT’s on-field success, Plaintiffs often spend more time practicing for and playing in matches, more time in training camps, more time traveling and more time participating in media sessions, among other duties and responsibilities, than similarly situated MNT players. For example, from 2015 through 2018, the WNT played 19 more games than the MNT played over that same period of time. As the MNT averaged approximately 17 games per year in that time frame, the WNT played the equivalent of more than one additional MNT calendar year session from 2015 through 2018. The USSF, nevertheless, has paid and continues to play Plaintiffs less than similarly situated MNT players.
The timing of this suit does provide the USWNT with leverage — not only is it International Women’s Day, but the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France kicks off in three months. When the USWNT won the 2015 World Cup, 23 million people in the United States tuned in to watch the match, making it the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history, surpassing all men’s matches.