USWNT Players Challenge Gender Inequality in U.S. Soccer Federation

“We feel a responsibility not only to stand up for what we know we deserve as athletes, but also for what we know is right – on behalf of our teammates, future teammates, fellow women athletes and women all around the world.” - Megan Rapinoe

Fresh off the She Believes Cup, news broke on International Women’s Day (March 8th, 2019) that all 28 members of the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF). The lawsuit focuses on violations of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibit wage discrimination between men and women performing similar duties, and discrimination based on sex, race, religion, color, and national origin respectively.  While this was an impactful announcement, coming in International Women’s Day, it is not the first time that the USWNT has gone up against the federation on the grounds of equal pay. Most recently, several current members, as well as former goal-tender Hope Solo, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016. The current lawsuit can be seen as a logical step forward with no resolution coming from the 2016 complaint.

Image Credit- USWNT

Image Credit- USWNT

The complaint at the core of the lawsuit is one frequently cited in discussions of gender discrimination when it comes to compensating athletes. The members of the USWNT are consistently paid less than those on the men’s team, despite out performing them at every turn. The women’s team plays more games and frequently makes more money for the federation, with higher television ratings and overall wins. Not to mention the women’s three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals. The complaints also address disparities in training, playing, and travel conditions, as well as a “manufactured revenue depression” due to lack of promotion and lower ticket prices as compared to the men.

The players are hoping the case will result in the adjustment of the USSF policy and procedure regarding wages and benefits for the team, as well as damages in back pay, fees, and punitive damages in the hopes that such discrimination will not occur in the future. Overall, the goal is for the past and present players, as well as future team members, to have access to the level wages and benefits they “would be enjoying but for the USSF’s discriminatory practices.”

The USWNT is taking specific legal action, but the timing does hearken back to when the U.S. women’s hockey team found success when they threatened to boycott the International Ice Hockey Federation’s world championships on the grounds of equality in 2017. While the lawsuit is not likely to affect anything happening on the field during this World Cup season, we are guaranteed to hear a lot about it in the news surrounding the blockbuster event, which may provide some leverage for the team in their search for success in the court and on the pitch.

Anya Alvarez