US Women’s National Soccer Team’s ongoing battle for equal pay

US Women’s National Soccer Team’s ongoing battle for equal pay

Photo Credits: TESSA KOGA / AGGIE

USWNT continues to fight after court sides with U.S. Soccer Federation

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) is continuing its fight against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) following a federal judge’s decision to dismiss their equal pay claims. 

The lawsuit, which asserts that USSF is in violation of both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, is aimed at putting an end to the long-standing gender-based discrimination that the women’s national team has faced for years. 

On March 8, 2019, 28 players from the USWNT filed a wage discrimination lawsuit against the USSF, claiming that not only are they paid substantially less than the U.S. men’s national soccer team for the same work, but that the women face “institutionalized gender discrimination” under the USSF. 

On May 1 of this year, a federal judge ruled in favor of the USSF, stating that the USWNT did not prove any wage discrimination under the Equal Pay Act and had not presented any triable issues. 

Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, two of the stars from the women’s team, were shocked by the decision and spoke out following the court’s dismissal of their claims. They made it clear that they were going to keep fighting. 

One week later, the USWNT announced that it will be asking for a postponement of their currently scheduled trial date of June 16 and filing a motion to immediately appeal the court’s most recent decision, sending it to be reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Several months after the initial filing in November 2019, the case took a step forward in the USWNT’s favor, when the court granted it the ability to pursue the case as a class action lawsuit. This meant the players would be able to fight the case as a group and any players from the U.S. women’s team dating back to 2015 would have the ability to “opt in” to the class. 

At the time, this ruling appeared to be a huge step forward, giving players hope that the court would acknowledge the ongoing discrimination against the team. The court’s most recent decision to side with the USSF proves the fight toward equal pay is not even close to being over.

The main reasoning behind the court’s decision to side with the USSF is that the women’s team entered a collective bargaining agreement with the USSF that it now wants to get out of. Collective bargaining agreements are a result of negotiations between players and management, and the court claims that the women’s team previously agreed to their current pay conditions. 

The USWNT countered this claim, explaining that the contracts received by the male players were never presented to the women’s team and the reason that the women accepted the CBA was a result of equal pay never being on the table to begin with. 

The lawsuit is not only seeking back pay of $66.7 million plus punitive damages, but is also looking for some form of acknowledgment of the blatant gender discrimination that has been carried out by USSF through the years. 

The recent events of this case are only the latest in a long dispute between women’s players and the USSF that dates back to boycotts from the women’s team during the 1996 Olympics. At the time, the USSF claimed it would only present bonuses to the women if they received gold medals, explaining that it “cannot reward mediocrity.” 

The unsteady relationship between the two groups reached a tipping point following the women’s 2015 World Cup victory.

In March 2016, five players from the 2015 World Cup side, including Morgan and Rapinoe, filed a federal complaint against the USSF. 

The women explained that they earned only 40% of what the men’s national team made, despite the fact that they put in the same amount of work and have consistently outperformed their male counterparts. 

At the time, the USSF was standing by the argument that the men’s national team brings in “multiples” of the revenue, attendance and television ratings compared to the women’s team. While that argument was largely unjustifiable to begin, it has proven to be especially untrue today, considering the unparalleled success that the women’s team has enjoyed. 

The USWNT has four World Cup victories and four Olympic gold medals under its belt, compared to zero World Cup titles from the men’s national team. The women’s 2015 World Cup victory had over 500 million viewers worldwide, along with a record one billion who tuned in to their 2019 World Cup Final match. They have also received a huge amount of support from the public, including chants from fans demanding equal pay during their 2019 World Cup Final appearance. 

The lawsuit’s 25 page filing from March 2019 explains that the 2015 women’s team was far more successful than the men’s team, garnering a $17 million profit for the USSF. Yet, female players were still paid substantially less than the men. 

The women’s team claims a representative for the USSF stated that “market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men” in response to the demands for equal pay in 2016. 

The USSF has also previously presented a shocking suggestion that male players have “more responsibility” and “require a higher level of skill” than the women’s team. 

This claim is disputed by the USWNT in the March 2019 filing, part of which referred to the fact that from 2015-2018, the women’s national team competed in 19 more matches overall than the men’s team, mainly due to the womens’ high level of success in those years. 

The filing also demonstrates the differences in pay, comparing the revenue each team would receive if they were to play 20 friendlies and win all 20 of them. Female players would receive a maximum of $99,000 compared to $263,320 for the male players. 

As far as payments for advancing through the rounds of the World Cup tournament, the men’s national team received over $5 million in 2014 for being defeated in Round 16 of the tournament, while the women’s team received $1.7 million for winning the entire tournament in 2015. 

Since the women’s 2019 World Cup win was not until after their March 2019 filing, a good amount of their claims reference the success of their 2015 victory campaign. The USSF has previously claimed that this is the team’s way of selecting an especially successful year from which to draw conclusions. 

The filings also cite multiple instances of discrimination outside of wage inequality. The women indicate that their team had to compete on artificial turf, which has a higher potential to cause serious injury to athletes, for 21% of their matches from 2014–17, compared to only 2% of the men’s team’s matches. 

The men’s team has also received better travel conditions from the USSF, receiving charter flights 17 times in 2017, compared to none for the women’s team. 

While these are just a few of the many claims made against the USSF, they reveal clear discrepancies in the treatment of the women’s team compared to the men’s team on multiple occasions. 

The USSF has a new president, Cindy Parlow Cone, following the resignation of former USSF president Carlos Cordeiro. Cone and Cordeiro have apologized for the language that the USSF has used in previous claims, and Cone claims she would like to work to rebuild the relationship between the USSF and the women’s national team. 

Cone’s claims do not amount to much, considering the USSF continues to move forward with challenging the USWNT’s desire for something as basic as the right to equal pay.

Since Cordeiro’s resignation, the USSF has also moved on from its original arguments that the men’s and women’s teams do not perform equal work. It now has the majority of its claims riding on the fact that the women’s players willingly entered their collective bargaining agreements during the time period that their case references and that the difference in their CBA’s are not enough to prove discrimination. 

Regardless of the changes made by the USSF, its past claims should be enough on their own to indicate multiple instances of gender-based discrimination. The apologies from USSF along with the decision to switch its main focus in this case does not erase the past. 

The fact that multiple public statements made by the USSF, along with the evidence presented in the 2019 filings, are being overlooked demonstrate how unnecessarily challenging the fight for equal pay remains to this day.

Nonetheless, the drive demonstrated by the women’s team in this battle and the utilization of its platform to fight for something the players believe in is commendable. As the USWNT continues to fight for something that should not even be in question, they have presented other female athletes, and women in general, with a clear message of what it means to keep fighting through adversity. 

Written by: Rain Yekikian — sports@theaggie.org