Sports

All 28 Players on U.S. Women's Soccer Team Sue U.S. Soccer for Allegedly Violating Equal Pay, Civil Rights Laws

With only three months before the start of the 2019 Women's World Cup, all 28 players of the reigning champ U.S. Women's National Soccer Team filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, citing violations of federal equal pay and civil rights laws.

The complaint, filed Friday morning in a California federal court, argued that even though the women's team and the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team perform the same exact job for the same employer, U.S. Soccer, "female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts."

"This is true even though [the women's team] performance has been superior to that of the male players—with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions," notes the lawsuit.

In fact, the U.S. women's team is the most successful female soccer team in World Cup play, having won a total of three championships. By contrast, the men's team has never placed better than third at the World Cup, and that was in 1930.

The 28 plaintiffs, including co-captains Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, contended that U.S. Soccer was defying its own mission statement, which includes the promotion of gender equality. The players said it had "utterly failed" in this respect and "stubbornly refused to treat its female employees" equally to the men.

"Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that," said Morgan in a statement provided to Newsweek. "We believe that fighting for gender equality in sports is a part of that responsibility. As players, we deserved to be paid equally for our work, regardless of our gender."

While a number of female athletic teams do not have audiences comparable to their male counterparts, the lawsuit stated that women's soccer in the U.S. was an exception. The team noted that the July 2015 World Cup title game, in which the U.S. beat Japan to claim its third world title, was "the most watched soccer game in American TV history."

That popularity has led to profitability for U.S. Soccer, the complaint continued, claiming that the organization had been slated to lose nearly $500,000 in fiscal year 2016—"but thanks largely to the success of the female players on the WNT, the USSF revised its projections upward to include a $17.7 million profit."

According to the complaint, players on the men's team are paid at least $5,000 per game, regardless of who they are playing or the outcome of the game. That base pay for the male players can grow to as much as $17,625 per game when the U.S. team plays the most elite international teams. When members of the women's team first approached U.S. Soccer in 2012 about receiving the same pay scale, they said the organization's response was to offer the compensation only when the women played teams ranked in the top 10 worldwide, and only if they won the match. 

In 2016, noted the lawsuit, U.S. Soccer once again said no to demands of equal pay, saying that “market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men," even though, per the team, the organization had already conceded that the women's team was more profitable and generated more revenue than the men's. 

The complaint gave an example of both the men's and women's team playing 20 similar games in a year and winning all of them. In that case, according to the lawsuit, the most a women's team player could earn would be $4,950 per game, "while similarly situated male MNT players would earn an average of $263,320 or $13,166 per game." 

When contacted for a statement, a representative for U.S. Soccer told Newsweek that the organization did not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. The players also seek financial damages, to address the pay gap, and punitive damages to discourage the defendants from future unequal treatment of players.

“We feel a responsibility not only to stand up for what we know we deserve as athletes," said Rapinoe in a statement, "but also for what we know is right—on behalf of our teammates, future teammates, fellow women athletes, and women all around the world.”

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