Here’s how the math breaks down: The women’s team are salaried employees of the U.S. Soccer federation—the men are only paid if they’re called to the national team—and the serious difference in pay hits when it comes to bonuses. The men receive as much as $17,625 for a win against a top opponent and $5,000 for a loss in a friendly match, while the women receive $1,350 for a similar win but nothing for a loss or tie.
“We believe we have a very strong case of blatant gender discrimination and that the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC] will agree,” Jeffrey Kessler of the law firm Winston & Strawn, which filed the action, told NPR. In a phone interview with Glamour, he added that U.S. Soccer has “to pay equal play no matter what happens in collective bargaining. That’s a flat-out legal requirement.”
The women’s team won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup has remained No. 1 in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings since then, as of April 12. They’ve demolished ratings records for American soccer games with 26.7 million watching them beat Japan in the World Cup Final last summer and have won three straight Olympic gold medals and three World Cup titles—a record worth compensating, by any measure.
Currently, the men’s team, which supports the women’s action, has a 3-1-0 record for 2016 and sits at No. 30 in the FIFA Men’s World Rankings. They’ve also not matched the World Cup or Olympic wins of the women’s team.
“We have been quite patient over the years with the belief that the federation would do the right thing and compensate us fairly,” co-captain Carli Lloyd, the most valuable player of last year’s Women’s World Cup, said in a statement. The players who filed the lawsuit are Lloyd, midfielder Megan Rapinoe, co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn, forward Alex Morgan, and goalkeeper Hope Solo.
The EEOC will conduct an investigation to see if the women’s team—which has managed to elevate soccer in America to a level of respect and fame it has never enjoyed before, while playing professional games on college soccer fields in small markets—deserves compensation. Kessler said that the average case takes about six months, and if they agree the women have been discriminated against, they’ll receive both back pay and “change for the future.”
The formal hostilities began boiling in January, when the Women’s National Team Players Association submitted a proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement that called for equal pay for equal work, says Kessler.
U.S. Soccer responded with a lawsuit on Feb. 3, which tried to force the players to work under an old union agreement without being able to change it. However, the players’ union maintains that the old terms can be terminated at any time (aka ASAP).
The ruling is set for toward the end of May, Kessler said, and it’s super-critical because the agreement includes a no-strike, no-lockout policy. If the court sides with the players, they could go on strike before the Olympics in Rio this fall—and that’s the last thing U.S. Soccer wants.
Needless to say, things have gotten ugly: Kessler says that although the team’s women have been raising the issue about equal pay for a “very, very long time,” the federation has responded to them “with the back of their hand.”
“The women decided they weren’t going to take it anymore,” Kessler told us, and that they were going to “set an example for all women who might face similar types of discrimination.”
The team is going public with the issue: Solo and Lloyd even appeared on the Today show to talk about the lawsuit. “I’ve been on this team for a decade and a half, and I’ve been through numerous [collective bargaining agreement] negotiations, and honestly, not much has changed,” Solo says. “We continue to be told we should be grateful just to have the opportunity to play professional soccer, to get paid for doing it.
“In this day and age, it’s about equality. It’s about equal rights. It’s about equal pay. We’re pushing for that. We believe now the time is right because we believe it’s our responsibility for women’s sports and specifically for women’s soccer to do whatever it takes to push for equal pay and equal rights. And to be treated with respect.”
U.S. Soccer’s current position is that they aren’t open to modifying the agreement until the end of this year, as originally agreed in the memorandum—a timeline that takes the women’s team through what’s undoubtedly going to be an exciting Olympics.
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