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By: Catherine Collins
Member, American Journal of Trial Advocacy
The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (“USWNT” or “women’s team”) has historically dominated in their realm of competition. As a team employed and compensated by the U.S. Soccer Federation (“Federation”), the players are discontent with how they have been compensated for their achievements by the Federation. To understand the discontent, it is important to note this team’s success. The first FIFA Women’s World Cup was held in 1991 where the USWNT won its first World Cup championship in the inaugural tournament. Since 1991, the USWNT has won three more World Cup titles: in 1999, 2015, and 2019. The USWNT holds more World Cup titles than any other women’s national soccer team. There have only been eight World Cup tournaments, and the USWNT has qualified for each of the tournaments. Additionally, the USWNT has championed four gold medals during six of their appearances in the Olympic Games. For the past few years, the USWNT has been ranked the number one team in the world.
The USWNT has garnered many accomplishments over the years; however, critics argue that the women are not compensated fairly and adequately compared to the U.S. Men’s National Team (“USMNT” or “men’s team”), which is also employed and compensated by the Federation. The USMNT has not won a FIFA World Cup title since its inception in 1930, nor has the team contended for a World Cup championship. The team’s best result was placing third in the 1930 World Cup when only 13 teams competed. The USMNT did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup and is currently only ranked 22nd in the world.
The USWNT filed a complaint in March that outlined the pay gap between the two teams and the circumstances surrounding the issue.
After attempts to seek equal pay from the Federation, there has been no change in pay for the women to be paid even close the wages of the USMNT. In 2016, certain players, including Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd, and Megan Rapinoe, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging that the Federation was discriminating against the USWNT by compensating them in violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. After three years of inaction by the EEOC, the players issues remained unsettled.
Now that the women have displayed their worth once again with thrilling wins over their opponents week by week of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the women continue to demand better pay. The USWNT filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in California after their complaint to the EEOC remained unresolved. In the class action complaint filed in March 2019 prior to their World Cup title, the women’s team argued for the just compensation of the players. The complaint stated that the Federation violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
There are 41 allegations against the Federation listed, but the overarching issue is that the women’s team is paid less than the men’s team by the Federation despite performing similar job duties, outperforming the men’s team, and earning more profit for the Federation. Another allegations is that the Federation has also denied the women’s team “equal playing, training, and travel conditions; equal promotion of their games; equal support and development for their games; and other terms and conditions of employment equal to the [men’s team].” The examples given to support this argument were that the women’s team played 21 percent of their matches on artificial turf compared to the men’s team playing 2 percent of their matches on turf. The Federation also never chartered a flight for the women’s team in 2017, but the Federation chartered at least 17 flights for the men’s team that year. The complaint stated that the women, because of their success, played 19 more matches than the men from 2015–2018, which ultimately forced them to spend more time training, practicing, and playing than the men’s team. Most notably, the Women’s World Cup final in 2015 “garnered approximately 23 million viewers, making it the most watched soccer game in American TV history.”
Further, to break down the figures, the complaint stated that “[a] comparison of the [USWNT] and [USMNT’s] pay shows that if each team played 20 friendlies in a year and each team won all twenty friendlies, female [USWNT] players would earn a maximum of $99,000 or $4,950 per game, while similarly situated male [USMNT] players would earn an average of $263,320 or $13,166 per game against the various levels of competition they would face.” Even more concerning, after the 2014 World Cup, the Federation “provided the [men’s team] with performance bonuses totaling $5,375,000 for losing in the Round of 16, while, in 2015, the [Federation] provided the [women’s team] with only $1,725,000 for winning the entire tournament.” FIFA is an international organization that generates higher revenue worldwide from men’s teams which creates a prize pools that differs outrageously between the men and women’s World Cup tournaments. However, the Federation is still obligated under federal law to pay both teams equitably.
Also, Nike’s CEO reported that the USWNT’s soccer jersey “is now the number one soccer jersey, men’s or women’s, ever sold on Nike.com in one season.” This displays that there is evidence that the women’s fight for equal pay has spurred more marketing opportunities for the Federation. The bottom line is that the women generated more than $1.9 million more in revenue than the men’s team from 2016-2018. Ultimately, the USWNT seeks “an adjustment to the wage rates and benefits” as well punitive damages, attorneys fees, and back pay.
The Fight Continues
In mid-August 2019, representatives from both sides met to resolve this suit in mediation. The mediation ended abruptly with no compromise, and it is predicted that this case will go to trial. The Federation has not been extremely vocal regarding the suit, but the Federation’s President, Carlos Cordeiro, issued an open letter regarding the lawsuit. He stated that the Federation was surprised by the complaint, and he explained that the current agreement is fair and equitable. He commented on the Federation’s dedication to grow and invest in the women’s soccer program.
complicated issue from the Federation’s point of view is the compensation
structures for the men’s and women’s teams, which differ from each other. It is noted that under their contract the
women can earn a base salary of $100,000 in addition to bonuses based on game
performance, but the men only earn bonuses based on performance.
The bonuses, however, are disproportionate,
as noted above, and the women’s bonuses are not as much as the bonuses that the
men receive. However, the figures reported in the complaint
of the collective bargaining agreement the women were originally given show
that if the men and women won 20 games in a row, that the women would make 38%
less than the men.
But, the collective bargaining agreement
was revised, which Cordeiro stated, and in the same scenario under the new
agreement, the women would make 89% of what a male player would make.
If the collective bargaining agreement
truly was revised as Corderio reports, these strides are moving toward equal
pay; however, these numbers still do not reflect equal pay.
The lack of litigation and
resolution is troubling in this area, and it will be interesting to see how
this case will most likely move forward into court. Unfortunately, many equal pay cases in the
sports realm “are complicated and difficult issues to prove.”
It is also difficult to weigh the
different contracts, outside sponsorships, number of games, and the different
tournaments in which the men and women play. There seems to always be an argument that the
jobs of a women’s team and men’s team are not similar, which is an issue that
remains unanswered by the court. However,
it is critical to highlight that the team generating more revenue and creating
more value to an organization, according to simple economics, should be
compensated higher than those who are not generating the same value. The figures point toward the USWNT creating
more value and revenue for their employer than their male counterparts.
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 Id. at 9.
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 Kelly, supra note 16.
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 OPEN LETTER FROM U.S. SOCCER PRESIDENT CARLOS CORDEIRO, U.S. Soccer https://www.ussoccer.com/governance/board-of-directors/us-soccer-president-carlos-cordeiro/open-letter-2019-wnt-lawsuit; Gajanan, supra note 28.
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