Women Soccer Players Challenge Pay Disparity in Pro Sports

By Matt Bonesteel | Five key members of the U.S. women’s soccer team have filed a federal complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging wage discrimination. In the complaint, the players cite USSF figures from last year showing that they were paid nearly four times less than men’s players despite generating much more revenue.

Four of the five team members who filed the complaint — co-captains Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn, forward Alex Morgan, midfielder Megan Rapinoe and goalkeeper Hope Solo — appeared Thursday on the “Today” show along with attorney Jeffrey Kessler.

“I think the timing is right. I think we’ve proven our worth over the years, just coming off a World Cup win,” Lloyd told NBC’s Matt Lauer. “The pay disparity between men and women is just too large, and we want to continue to fight. The generation of players before us fought, and we want to continue the fight.”

Jeffrey Kessler, the attorney representing the women’s players, said in a telephone interview with The Post that the complaint is akin to asking a district attorney to investigate a crime. The EEOC, the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, will now conduct an investigation into the matter and decide if there has been a violation.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll get the right result, or that U.S. Soccer will do the right thing and agree to equal compensation,” Kessler said, adding that there have been many precedents for such an investigation outside of the sports world. What’s unusual about this case, Kessler said, is that both the men’s and women’s soccer teams work for the same employer.

“So it fits squarely into the Equal Pay Act,” Kessler said, referring to the 1963 federal law that seeks to end wage disparity between men and women.

Numbers uncovered by the New York Daily News paint a stark picture of the different levels of compensation given to the U.S. men’s and women’s teams, even though the women’s team won last year’s Women’s World Cup and has won the Olympic gold medal in four of the five tournaments that have been held. For comparison’s sake, the victorious German men’s national team was awarded $35 million by FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, after it won the 2014 World Cup.

“While we’ve not seen this complaint and can’t comment on the specifics of it, we’re disappointed about this action,” the U.S. Soccer Federation said in a statement. “We’ve been a world leader in women’s soccer and are proud of the commitment we’ve made to building the women’s game in the United States over the past 30 years.”

The USWNT players’ union has long been embroiled in a contract dispute with U.S. Soccer. The team’s last collective bargaining agreement expired in 2012, but U.S. Soccer maintains that the agreement continued as a revised memorandum of understanding that was signed in March 2013 and was expected to run through the end of this year. In December, the union’s executive director informed U.S. Soccer that it did not consider the memorandum of understanding valid and that the players would no longer be bound by a no-strike clause unless a new labor agreement was reached in 60 days. In February, U.S. Soccer filed a lawsuit against the players’ union, asking a court to rule that the 2013 memorandum of understanding was valid through the end of the year and that the players adhere to the no-strike clause.

“Recently, it has become clear that the Federation has no intention of providing us equal pay for equal work,” Rapinoe said in a statement released by Winston & Strawn, Kessler’s law firm.

“We had to take our fight for equity and equality to another battlefield,” Sauerbrunn added in the statement.

The USWNT has long been unhappy with what they see as an unequal playing field compared with the men’s national team. With bad memories of the artificial-turf fields used in last year’s Women’s World Cup still lingering, a victory-tour game in Hawaii was canceled in December after problems arose with Aloha Stadium’s fake-grass field (the U.S. men’s team always plays on grass). Other points of contention include flights to games (the women fly coach, while the men fly business class) and pay structure (the men are paid per point earned in the World Cup group stage, the women are not).

“The response from U.S. Soccer has been that it’s irrational” for the U.S. women’s soccer players to ask for equal pay, Kessler said.

Women Soccer...image 2

The pay disparities exist even though the U.S. women have been successful not only on the field, but also at the ticket booth and in terms of television ratings. The team’s 5-2 win over Japan in last year’s World Cup final was the second-most-watched soccer match in U.S. television history, with 25.4 million viewers. That’s also the largest television audience for a game involving a U.S. national team; the biggest audience for a U.S. men’s game was 18.2 million for a USA-Portugal World Cup match in 2014.

The women’s team also has pulled in comparable revenue to the men’s team.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Solo said in the Winston & Strawn statement.  “We are the best in the world, have three World Cup Championships, four Olympic Championships, and the USMNT get paid more to just show up, than we get paid to win major championships.”

Former U.S. men’s star Landon Donovan, meanwhile, says pay should be commensurate with revenue.

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Five U.S. women’s soccer players file wage discrimination complaint

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