Federal judge rejects U.S. women’s national team’s claim for equal pay, sides with U.S. Soccer

Federal judge rejects U.S. women's national team's claim for equal pay, sides with U.S. Soccer

A federal judge has thrown out the U.S. Women’s national team’s claim that they were paid less than the U.S. Men, finding that they earned more overall and for each game.

The ruling Friday, in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, partially granted U.S. Soccer’s request for a summary judgment. U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner ruled a discrimination claim related to unequal working conditions — specifically, the use of charter flights — can go to trial.

Molly Levinson, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Women, said in a statement they were “shocked and disappointed” with the decision, and promised to appeal.

“We will not give up our hard work for equal pay,” Levinson said. “We are confident in our case and steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that girls and women who play this sport will not be valued as lesser just because of their gender. We have learned that there are tremendous obstacles to change; we know that it takes bravery and courage and perseverance to stand up to them.”.

The USWNT sued U.S. Soccer in March 2019, alleging the federation had violated the Equal Pay Act and subjected them to discriminatory working conditions. Though the women didn’t talk much about the lawsuit during the World Cup, it was in the background the entire time.

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When the Americans defeated The Netherlands to win their second consecutive title, fans serenaded them with chants of “Equal pay! Equal pay!”.

Mediation talks broke down shortly after the tournament, and the lawsuit took an ugly turn in March, when U.S. Soccer dismissed the four-time World Cup champions as inferior to male players and belittled their accomplishments. Chastened by outraged sponsors, U.S. Soccer apologized, and reverted back to an earlier argument that the women had chosen their pay structure and, thus, had been fairly compensated.

It was that argument that Klausner sided with Friday.

“We look forward to working with the Women’s National Team to chart a positive path forward to grow the game both here at home and around the world,” U.S. Soccer said in a statement.

The U.S. Women and U.S. Men have separate collective bargaining agreements. In the lawsuit, the U.S. Women said their bonuses for friendlies, World Cup games and other tournaments were lower than those paid to the men. They also alleged that, as two-time reigning World Cup champions, they stood to have made far more money if they were paid under the men’s structure.

But Klausner rejected both premises. From 2015-19, the time covered in the lawsuit, the women made an average of $220,747 per game, he said, while the men made an average of $212,639. Klausner did not address the fact that the women won more games over this period, which would translate into higher bonuses.

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While the women certainly would have made more money under the men’s bonus structure — the U.S. Men would have made more than $1.1 million for winning the 2018 World Cup, according to The Guardian’s Caitlin Murray, while the women made less than $300,000 — Klausner ruled that was the players’ choice.

Unlike the U.S. Men, who are only paid for games they play, the women get a base salary.

“Plaintiffs cannot now retroactively deem their CBA worse than the MNT CBA by reference to what they would have made had they been paid under the MNT’s pay-to-play structure when they themselves rejected such a structure,” Klausner wrote. “This method of comparison not only fails to account for the choices made during collective bargaining, it also ignores the economic value of the `insurance’ the WNT players receive under their CBA.”.

“Merely comparing what WNT players received under their own CBA with what they would have received under the MNT CBA discounts the value that the team placed on the guaranteed benefits they receive under their agreement,” Klausner added, “which they opted for at the expense of higher performance-based bonuses.”.

Klausner also rejected a claim that the women had been discriminated against because they were forced to play on artificial turf more often than the men.