Members of the United States women’s national soccer team have vowed to continue their fight for equal pay after a federal judge dismissed key parts of their wage discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation.
In March 2019, 28 members of the USWNT squad – including star players Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Alex Morgan – filed a lawsuit against US Soccer seeking equal pay and working conditions with their male counterparts, citing “institutionalized gender discrimination”. The players sought more than $66m in damages and back pay under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Attempts at mediation failed and the issue cast a shadow over USWNT’s victory in the Women’s World Cup in France last summer and cost former US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro his job as the federation’s handling of the situation became a year-long public relations disaster.
Yet while the USWNT won in the court of public opinion, in turn gaining significant global support in their fight for women’s rights in the workplace, they ultimately lost in the court of law.
At the US District Court for the Central District of California, Judge Gary Klausner threw out the USWNT’s equal pay claim due to the fact that they agreed to a collective bargaining agreement which has different terms and bonus structures compared to the men’s.
“The history of negotiations between the parties demonstrates that the WNT rejected an offer to be paid under the same pay-to-play structure as the MNT, and the WNT was willing to forgo higher bonuses for benefits, such as greater base compensation and the guarantee of a higher number of contracted players,” Klausner wrote.
“Accordingly, plaintiffs cannot now retroactively deem their [collective bargaining agreement] worse than the MNT CBA by reference to what they would have made had they been paid under the MNT’s pay-to-play terms structure when they themselves rejected such a structure,” he said.
Klausner also rejected a claim that the women had been discriminated against because they played on artificial turf more often than the men. He said there was “insufficient evidence” to show that decisions on field surface were made for discriminatory reasons.
Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the players, said that the USWNT plan to appeal the decision, a process that could take at least a year to come to fruition.
“We are shocked and disappointed,” Levinson said. “We will not give up our hard work for equal pay. 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.”
Many of the women spoke out against the court’s decision on social media. “We will never stop fighting for equality,” Rapinoe tweeted.
Morgan added: “Although disappointing to hear this news, this will not discourage us in our fight for equality.”
Forward Tobin Heath wrote: “This team never gives up and we’re not going to start now.”
We will never stop fighting for EQUALITY.
— Megan Rapinoe (@mPinoe) May 2, 2020
The women also gained the support of Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for US president in this year’s election, who told the team to not “give up this fight.”
He added: “This is not over yet. To US Soccer: equal pay, now. Or else when I’m president, you can go elsewhere for World Cup funding.”
Klausner allowed the players’ case for unfair treatment in travel, specifically the use of charter flights, as well as in accommodation and medical treatment compared to the men to go to trial, which is set for June 16 in Los Angeles. New US Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone has said she wants to settle the case before it goes to trial.
“We look forward to working with the women’s national team to chart a positive path forward to grow the game,” US Soccer said in a statement. “We are committed to continuing that work to ensure our women’s national team remains the best in the world.”
The ruling is a significant boost for US Soccer, which has had to make a series of financial cutbacks amid the global Covid-19 pandemic. It was also the second major legal victory for the federation this year after the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that world governing body Fifa was not legally required to enforce promotion and relegation in the US soccer pyramid.