Equal play, equal pay

United States Women’s National Soccer Team sues U.S. Federation for gender discrimination

On International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019, 28 members of the eligible player pool from the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team filed a class action gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) — three months before the start of the Women’s World Cup.

“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 players wrote in their lawsuit.

In the 25-page filing, there are a total of 41 complaints, highlighted by claims of unequal wages, playing conditions and action from the federation. If the women’s team were to play 20 friendly games, for example, players could earn up to $99,000. On the other hand, if the men played the same amount of games, players could earn up to $263,320. As for the World Cup, members of the MNT roster earned $55,000 in 2014. On the women’s side, players were given $15,000 for achieving the same thing in 2015.  

Overall, the women have had more success than the men, winning three World Cups, four Olympic gold medals and being atop the World Rankings all but nine months in the last 10 years. The women’s World Cup final victory in July of 2015 stands as the most watched soccer game in American TV history.

“The WNT’s success on the field has translated into substantial revenue generation and profit for the USSF. In fact, during the period relevant to this case, the WNT earned more in profit and/or revenue than the MNT. For example […] the net profit for the WNT outstripped net profit for the MNT (from April 1, 2015-March 31, 2016) because the female players on the WNT were more successful in competition than the male players on the MNT – while being paid substantially less.”

There is no debate when it comes to relative success, as the men’s national team has struggled in recent years while the women have thrived. The women play more for less pay and often in unsafe conditions. According to the lawsuit, from January 2014 to December 2017, the women played a total of 62 matches in the United States. Of those 62, 13 were played on artificial surfaces. In that same time period, the men played 49 matches in the U.S., only one of which was hosted on an artificial surface. Playing on an artificial surface is more likely to cause serious injury, as it changes the speed and bounce of the ball as well as how players make contact with it.

This is not the first time players have taken legal action against the USSF. In March of 2016, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and former U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo all filed a federal complaint against the federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After an investigation, the EEOC found that they were in fact discriminated against by the USSF and that the Federation practiced “wage discrimination.” After almost three years, there was no resolution but the players did receive a “right to sue” by the EEOC on February 11, leading to the lawsuit.

“During his 2017 campaign for president of the USSF, current President Carlos Cordeiro, who had been a member of the USSF’s Board of Directors since 2007 and Vice President of the USSF from 2016 to February 2018, admitted, ‘Our women’s teams should be respected and valued as much as our men’s teams, but our female players have not been treated equally.’ The USSF, however, has paid only lip service to gender equality and continues to practice gender-based discrimination against its champion female employees on the WNT in comparison to its less successful male employees on the MNT.”

Cordeiro responded to the lawsuit with a letter a week after it became public, stating, “U.S. Soccer has partnered with the USWNT in a sincere effort to listen, provide the very best resources possible to the team and its staff, and advance the women’s game on the field and in the marketplace. We were therefore surprised by the complaint filed last week by the U.S. Women’s National Team.”

According to the lawsuit, however, the players state that the USSF has “continually rejected WNT players’ requests for pay equal to the pay afforded to MNT players.”

In the end, the players are seeking change and equality, as well as payment for damages. They hope to get rid of discrimination once and for all and finally be met with action — not just words.

A favorable ruling in this lawsuit could eventually lead to other women in professional sports taking similar actions, as they continue to battle inequality. In the end, the evidence may finally lead the USWNT to achieve something they have been fighting for for a long time: equal pay for equal play.

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org

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