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Breaking down the USWNT players’ federal lawsuit

Alex Morgan and the U.S. women's national team have filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer seeking equal pay. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU /AFP/Getty Images)

All 28 current United States women’s national team players filed a federal class-action lawsuit Friday morning against the U.S. Soccer Federation seeking equal pay and alleging gender-based discrimination.

The USSF is the governing body for the sport in America and pays the men’s and women’s national teams. The lawsuit demands a jury trial for violations of the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits wage discrimination between men and women who perform similar jobs, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion.

Below is a breakdown of the most important parts of the lawsuit, along with prepared statements from five of the players. You can see the full complaint here.

Doesn’t this sound familiar?

Yes. The players for the U.S. women’s national team have demanded equal pay and treatment many times throughout the years, most recently on March 30, 2016, when five players — Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and former U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo — filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging the federation practiced wage discrimination in violation of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act.

The call for “equal play, equal pay” rippled through the sports landscape. 

Friday’s lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles effectively ends that EEOC complaint after seeing no resolution nearly three years later. The EEOC issued “Notices of Right to Sue” to the players Feb. 5, and the players received them Feb. 11.

The complaint

The lawsuit alleges U.S. Soccer engaged in “systemic gender-based pay discrimination” and “has caused, contributed to, and perpetuated gender-based pay disparities” against the players in “nearly every aspect of their employment.”

There are more than 41 complaints against U.S. Soccer in the lawsuit. You can see all of them in the full document. Here are some of the highlighted complaints:

  • The women are paid less than the men despite performing similar job duties for the same employer and outperforming the men — at times earning more profit for the federation, playing more games, winning more games, winning more championships and garnering higher television ratings. To support that claim, the lawsuit cites the women’s three World Cup titles, four Olympic gold medals, No. 1 rank in the world for 10 of the 11 last years and the 2015 World Cup title game being the most-watched soccer game in American TV history.
  • The women actually spend more time in training camps and playing games than the men because of this success. From 2015-18, the women played 19 more matches than the men.
  • In addition to unequal pay, the lawsuit says the federation provides unequal playing, training and travel conditions, and unequal promotion for games.
    Examples cited: From 2014-17, the women played 21 percent of their domestic matches on artificial turf compared to 2 percent for the men. In 2017, the USSF chartered at least 17 flights for the men and none for the women. Lower ticket prices and less promotion of women’s matches led to “USSF-manufactured revenue depression.”
  • When the USWNT players association negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement, which took effect Jan. 1, 2017, and runs through 2021, the USSF rejected requests for equal compensation and also turned down a proposed “revenue-sharing model” that would test the federation’s claim that “market realities” do not justify equal pay for women. “Under this model, player compensation would increase in years in which the USSF derived more revenue from WNT activities and player compensation would be less if revenue from those activities decreased. This showed the players’ willingness to share in the risk and reward of the economic success of the WNT,” the lawsuit says.

What they’re seeking

Change. And restitution.

The players want the USSF to stop discriminatory practices immediately by providing “an adjustment to the wage rates and benefits” for the plaintiffs and the class “to the level these Plaintiffs and the class would be enjoying but for the USSF’s discriminatory practices.”

They are also seeking damages, including back pay, front pay, attorneys fees and punitive damages to deter future discriminatory practices.

The plaintiffs

Morgan,  Rapinoe,  Sauerbrunn and  Lloyd are the faces of the lawsuit and named throughout. 

“On February 5, 2019, the EEOC issued Plaintiffs Morgan, Lloyd, Rapinoe and Sauerbrunn Notices of Right to Sue, which these Plaintiffs each received on February 11, 2019. … Plaintiffs Morgan, Lloyd, Rapinoe and Sauerbrunn have exhausted their administrative remedies and have brought this action in a timely manner,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs Morgan, Lloyd, Rapinoe and Sauerbrunn bring this claim on behalf of themselves and the class they represent.”

The class they represent is all current and former women’s national team players dating to Feb. 4, 2015. According to the complaint, that is more than 50 people. In addition to Morgan, Rapinoe, Sauerbrunn and Lloyd, these players are listed as plaintiffs:

Morgan Brian, Jane Campbell, Danielle Colaprico, Abby Dahlkemper, Tierna Davidson, Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz, Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle, Allie Long, Merritt Mathias, Jessica McDonald, Samantha Mewis, Alyssa Naeher, Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press, Mallory Pugh, Casey Short, Emily Sonnett, Andi Sullivan and McCall Zerboni.

What’s next?

A response from U.S. Soccer, which had not yet come as of 8 p.m. Friday. There is a lot to dissect in this complaint. The federation likely will raise the issue of the men and women having separately-negotiated CBAs that feature vastly different pay structures. For example, the women are paid annual guaranteed salaries with smaller bonuses for matches and tournaments. The men have a more “pay-to-play” structure with larger bonuses. The women also receive some benefits, such as health care, that the men do not, according to the federation.

And a World Cup. The U.S. women are preparing to defend their title in the 2019 World Cup beginning June 7 in France, which could bring even more attention to this years-long battle for equal treatment.

They said

Below are prepared statements from the lead plaintiffs in the case, released by The Levinson Group, which handles communications for the players.

Carli Lloyd, co-captain of the USWNT, said: “In light of our team’s unparalleled success on the field, it’s a shame that we still are fighting for treatment that reflects our achievements and contributions to the sport. We have made progress in narrowing the gender pay gap, however progress does not mean that we will stop working to realize our legal rights and make equality a reality for our sport.”

Alex Morgan, co-captain of the USWNT, said: “Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that. We believe that fighting for gender equality in sports is a part of that responsibility. As players, we deserved to be paid equally for our work, regardless of our gender.”

Christen Press, USWNT player, said: “We have worked very hard with the USSF, including the Federation’s new leadership, to make progress on these incredibly important gender equality issues. We appreciate and agree with Carlos Cordeiro’s public statements that more should be done. Despite this progress, the fact is that the pay disparity and unequal working conditions persists. We believe that we have a responsibility to act as role models. Fighting for what we legally deserve is a part of that.”

Megan Rapinoe, co-captain of the USWNT, said: “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.”

Becky Sauerbrunn, USWNT player and former co-captain, said: “The bottom line is simple: it is wrong for us to be paid and valued less for our work because of our gender. Every member of this team works incredibly hard to achieve the success that we have had for the USSF. We are standing up now so that our efforts, and those of future USWNT players, will be fairly recognized.”

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