By Courtney L. Flowers, Ph.D.
Current and former members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (WNT) filed a lawsuit last week in the District Court of Central District of California Western Division against the United States Soccer Federation, Inc. (USSF), claiming they have been adversely affected by gender discrimination.
Specifically, the Plaintiffs claim that the USSF violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (“EPA”) pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).
Through the years, the WNT has won three World Cup titles and four Olympic medals. In addition, the WNT is a three-time winner of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Team of the Year award and are currently ranked number one in the world.
Further, the WNT and the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team (MNT) share some similarities in job responsibilities. For example, both teams are required to maintain elite soccer skills and physical condition. Also, players are restricted from using banned substances and serve as spokespersons for soccer. In addition, players are required to promote games, participate in media events, and follow the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and USSF rules and regulations.
On March 30, 2016, Plaintiffs Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Becky Sauerbrunn filed a gender discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the USSF. On February 5, 2019, the EEOC issued these Plaintiffs Notices of Right to Sue.
The Plaintiffs collectively seek an end to what they believe are the USSF’s discriminatory practices and relief from suffered harm, which includes loss of earnings and benefits.
Allegations of the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League
The United States Soccer Federation violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by consistently paying the WNT less than the MNT, according to the complaint. For example, the USSF had a projected profit of $17.7 million, mostly due to the success of the Women’s National Soccer team, they assert.
Further, the Plaintiffs assert that the USSF acknowledged this injustice. According to the lawsuit, the USSF President, Carlos Cordeiro reported, “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.” For example, the Plaintiffs cite, from 2013 through 2016, they only earned $15,000 for World Cup try-outs whereas members of the Men’s National Soccer team earned $55,000.
They also reported allegations of inequitable employment conditions. The Plaintiffs assert from 2014 to 2017, the USSF charted more flights for the MNT and the men’s team was less likely to play on artificial turf.
Collective Action Allegations – The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended by the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 206 et seq.
The Plaintiffs bring collective claims alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (“EPA”) pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). In the suit, they claim the USSF has engaged in gender-based pay discrimination against its female soccer team employees. In correlation, the lawsuit asks:
a) Whether the USSF has an unlawful common policy of paying members of the collective less than similarly situated male employees for substantially equal or similar work.
b) Whether the USSF unlawfully failed to compensate members of the collective at a level commensurate with similarly situated male employees.
c) Whether the USSF has willfully violated the EPA by intentionally and deliberately paying female WNT employees less than its male MNT employees for equal or similar work.
d) Whether the USSF’s common practice of paying members of the collective less than similarly situated male employees for substantially equal or similar work can be explained away by any bona fide seniority, merit or incentive system or any other factor other than sex.
Class Action Allegations – Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.
The Class action allegations led by Plaintiffs Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Becky Sauerbrunn poses the following questions:
a) Whether the USSF discriminates against the Class in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, by subjecting them to different treatment based on gender, and whether Plaintiffs and the Class have suffered disparate impact and/or disparate treatment discrimination as a result of Defendant’s wrongful conduct?
b) Whether there are legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for this gross disparity of wages and other terms and conditions of employment and whether those reasons are pretext for unlawful gender discrimination?
c) Whether the USSF has willfully violated Title VII by intentionally, knowingly, and/or deliberately subjecting WNT players to terms and conditions of employment less favorable than MNT players?
d) Whether, as a result of the USSF’s ongoing conduct, violation of Title VII, and/or willful discrimination, Plaintiffs and similarly situated former and current WNT members have suffered and will continue to suffer harm, including but not limited to lost earnings, lost benefits, and other financial loss, as well as noneconomic damages?
Causes of Action — Count I: Equal Pay Act (The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended by the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 206 et seq.)
The Plaintiffs assert the USSF violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. §§ 206 et seq., by discriminating against current and former members by providing female employees differential pay in relations to their male counterparts.
The Prayer for Relief for Count I include interests and benefits related to back pay, liquidated damages, pre and post-judgment interest, and Attorney’s fees and costs.
Causes of Action — Count II Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.)
The Plaintiffs claim the USSF has intentionally discriminated against the Plaintiffs and the Class by using gender bias policies and practices which have included less favorable playing, training, travel, and promotion of games. This violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. Due to this, the Prayer for Relief for Count II designates Plaintiffs Morgan, Lloyd, Rapinoe and Sauerbrunn as the representatives of the proposed Class. It also asks for exemplary and punitive damages, preliminary and permanent injunction against the USSF and all persons acting in concert with them, and declaratory judgment that the USSF practices are unlawful and violate 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.
Relief from Count II also includes an equitable adjustment of the wage rates and benefits for Plaintiffs Morgan, Lloyd, Rapinoe and Sauerbrunn and the Class, Attorneys’ fees and costs, and pre-judgment and post-judgment interest.
Equitable Changes Attributed to this Case
Since the filing of this lawsuit, Adidas announced its 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup sponsored players would receive the same performance bonus as male players (Bowden, 2019). In addition, FIFA has doubled the prize money pool for the 2019 summer Women’s World Cup (Das, 2019). Yet, the FIFA’s prize pool for the men’s tournament is $400 million for 32 teams, whereas the prize pool for the Women’s World Cup is $30 million for 24 teams (Das, 2019).
Bowden, J. (2019, March 9). Adidas to give Women’s World Cup winners same bonuses as men. Retrieved, https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/433338-adidas-to-give-womens-world-cup-winners-equal-bonuses-as-men
Das, A. (2019, March 8). U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Sues U.S. Soccer for Gender Discrimination Retrieved from, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/08/sports/womens-soccer-team-lawsuit-gender-discrimination.html?emc=edit_na_20190308&nl=breaking-news&nlid=90642065ing-news&ref=headline
Courtney L. Flowers, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Texas Southern University. Her research examines the racial and gendered barriers that embody Title IX policies and practices in sports.