Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle, and Carli Lloyd. I’m sure you recognize these names. You have seen them play world-class soccer, cheered for their incredible success, and been inspired by their dedication and perseverance. These are just a few of the players who are also taking on the United States Soccer Federation, Inc. (“USSF”) in a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination.
The lawsuit alleges that the USSF, which is the common employer of the United States Women’s and Men’s National Soccer Teams (USWNT and USMNT respectively), has and continues to pay the women players less than the men players. You can find a copy of the full complaint here: https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/653-us-womens-soccer-complaint/f9367608e2eaf10873f4/optimized/full.pdf#page=1
Despite the fact that the women’s team has outperformed the men’s team for years, a USSF representative said, “market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men.” Compl. ¶ 55. By that, the USSF meant that because the men’s games bring in more money, it does not make market sense to pay the players the same amount. For instance, FIFA made more than $6 billion from the 2018 men’s World Cup, whereas the women’s 2019 World Cup has been projected to make about $130 million. But this difference for FIFA has not matched USSF’s profit in the last three years, where audited financial statements from 2016 to 2018 showed the “women’s games generated approximately $50.8 million in revenue, compared with $49.9 million for men’s games.” https://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/19/us-womens-soccer-games-now-generate-more-revenue-than-mens.html
The Disparity Goes Way Beyond Pay
The players allege that even though they employ the same skill, effort and responsibilities as the men, the “playing, training and travel conditions, promotion of their games, support and development for their games” are not equal. Compl. ¶ 67.
While the women are contractually obligated to play more games than the men, they play on inferior surfaces and are subjected to less favorable travel arrangement than the men players. Compl. ¶¶ 50, 70-73.
The allegations also assert the USSF fails to promote the women’s team as much as the men’s, which leads to less revenue overall. Compl. ¶¶ 74-76.
Not only does the USSF not promote the women’s games as much as the men’s, they also set ticket prices lower than men’s. “The USSF’s unilateral decision to set such lower ticket prices, coupled with its decision to provide substantially less marketing and promotion support to the WNT, results in USSF-manufactured revenue depression for the WNT, which is then used as pretext for lower compensation for Plaintiffs.” Compl. ¶ 77.
Based on these allegations, the women players bring claims for violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. USSF answered the complaint and alleged the decisions cited by USWNT were for legitimate business purposes and not for any discriminatory purpose.
The parties recently agreed to go to mediation where they can attempt to negotiate a resolution. The parties need to decide which forum—mediation or a courtroom—will be a better outcome for their respective positions. Both have their upsides and their downsides. Mediation provides more confidentiality and less long-lasting legal ramifications. It allows the parties to fashion their own result. The courtroom would set legal precedent and would be open to the public, but there are no guarantees that either side will end up with the decision that they desire.
After such a successful run in the World Cup, will the USWNT have the leverage to convince USSF to increase pay on par with their male counterparts? I don’t know, but they certainly have the attention of the world right now. I do hope that people rally around women’s sports and see them as valuable as men’s sports. Public demand would certainly affect the market realities argument, and the other conditions for the players would improve with additional public support. It’s going to take time, and the law may take some time to catch up as well, but it’s lawsuits like these that will push the country, and the law, forward.
Phoebe Coddington has litigated hundreds of cases and appeals all over the country. She has represented large and small clients from large banks and electric utilities to small companies and business owners. Ms. Coddington handles all types of cases, but business litigation comprises the majority of her work.