U.S. Women’s National Team’s Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Against U.S. Soccer Update
With the mediation for the World Cup winning U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s pay-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation hitting the skids and the trial date now set for May 2020 — in the midst of preparations for the Olympics — it is time to look at this long road that has been traveled.
It is undeniable. The USA winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup increased the popularity of soccer in America.
Americans love to win and love winners.
When the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) defeated all the other nations to become victorious again on the world stage and were honored with a parade in New York City, we all fell a little more in love with the game of soccer.
But, even as the team floated down the streets for the second time in New York’s Ticker Tape parade honoring their success, it was clear the celebration was about more than just the World Cup win — the signs asking for equal pay seen on TV by viewers nationwide reflected a deeper story and a battle not yet won.
This team is clear proof that Playing like a Girl is wondrous and special, and clearly gender should not be a factor in pay.
The very public battle between this talented squad of women who have brought so much pride to the USA and the Federation for which they play … still wages on even as the 2019 USWNT Victory Tour continues. 28 players on the U.S. Women’s National Team have sued U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) alleging that women’s players “have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts.”
The battle has already given U.S. Soccer a black eye.
Last week, the negotiations between broke down. The mediation was the most recent attempt to resolve the lawsuit filed last March by the USWNT’s players.
The issue at the heart of the conflict is a question of gender equality. While the math may look confusing to many, the bottom line is quite simple.
The back-to-back Women’s World Cup winning team unquestionably feel they have been treated as second class citizens.
With the mediation process, which was designed to avoid an appearance in federal court at a standstill and the reality of a face-off in court a real possibility, it is a good time to reflect on the issues.
This issue transcends sports.
Megan Rapinoe on “equal pay” chants: “I think the fans said it all. They’re with us wanting more. I think everybody’s ready for it, as I was alluding to it before. But it’s pretty special to have that transcendent moment outside of sport.” pic.twitter.com/iae6SWXham— The Hill (@thehill) July 8, 2019
A trial date of May 5, 2020 has now been set — a court date neither side wants because it will be in the midst of preparation for the Tokyo Summer Olympics which kicks off in July. Always putting the game first, both sides had asked the court for a trial date scheduled after the Olympic games.
“While we didn’t resolve the situation through mediation, our approach is to continue to have conversations in good faith and find a resolution,” said U.S. Soccer’s Chief Communications Officer, Neil Buethe. “We always know we can do more, but the information pushed out to the public by their legal team has been misleading and perpetuated the idea that there is a huge pay gap, which is not accurate.
“We always strive to ensure that all our national team players, women and men, are paid fairly and equitably. The situation is complex because the men’s and women’s teams have different pay structures, not because of gender, but because each team chose to negotiate a different compensation package with U.S. Soccer,” said Buethe. “We have always shown that we value our players by being the global leader in terms of compensation and support, which by far exceeds any other women’s team in the world.”
What is really sad is that the battle has polarized soccer fans with isolated facts.
Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the USWNT in their lawsuit, has been quoted as saying, “We entered mediation with representatives of [U.S. Soccer] full of hope … and, we want all of our fans, sponsors, peers around the world, and women everywhere to know we are undaunted and will eagerly look forward to a jury trial.”
While U.S. Soccer steadfastly denies the players’ claims, citing the major differences in the contracts, the aura of unfairness permeates.
Why are the dollars so confusing?
One of the greatest sources of conflicting numbers is quite simply the different pay structures but an underlying issue is the fact that the women do not command the higher salaries that their male counterparts earn from pro contracts, or that FIFA pays out for succeeding in the World Cup.
There is a shocking pay gap in World Cup bonuses with women receiving a fraction of what the men earn. For winning the 2019 FIFA World Cup, each USWNT player reportedly earned $110,000 — compared to the more than $9 million the men’s team would divide equally among its players.
Adding to this insult, the men’s professional soccer league in America, the MLS, is twenty-three years old, and commands millions. Launched in 1996 with ten teams, it is now a thriving league with 24 teams with millions of fans having already attended games so far this year.
In contracts, the women’s league, the NWSL, was launched in 2013 and had nine teams playing in 2019.
Although there was a significant rise in ticket sales for the 2019 season, the NWSL has far fewer fans than the MLS and does not have the financial resources to pay its players the same level of salaries paid to men in the MLS. In fact, U.S. Soccer reports it has contributed $18 million towards the NWSL since inception, kicking in $67,500 to $72,500 per USWNT player to raise the annual salary.
The USWNT and USMNT Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has a very different structure. The men negotiating a higher per-game appearance fee and bonus structure but are only paid if they are selected on the roster.
One major reason for difference in pay figures: U.S. Soccer pays the Women National Team a guaranteed salary.
“If a player on the USWNT is injured in early January and sidelined for the year, she would still receive a paycheck every two weeks,” said Buethe. “That structure provides the WNT players with security. A player on the Men’s National Team that gets injured in January and is out for the entire year, would not earn nothing as he would not be called in again which is required since their pay structure is pay-to-play.”
The Big Question is how is ‘equal’ defined?
“We offered the men’s contract structure to the women during the latest CBA negotiations, and they turned it down,” said Buethe. “They informed us they preferred to have a guaranteed salary, which the USMNT does not have and required a different contract structure.”
In fact, in April 2017, it was USWNT player Becky Sauerbrunn who had a leadership role in the negotiations on the current CBA who said the U.S. women’s players were not ready to have a pay structure just like that of the men’s.
“For so long, the national team has been our source of security for the player pool,” Sauerbrunn told SI. “The men have their pro teams. The national team has been our ‘pro team’ in quotes …. We absolutely think going to a pay-to-play model is the future. The problem is women’s soccer is not at the stage yet where our player pool can find our source of security from the NWSL.”
Back then, two years ago, Sauerbrunn told SI after the agreement was finalized, “We’re trying to figure out where women’s soccer is going, so we may not have the same exact structure as the men.”
“So equal isn’t the right word. It would be equitable, because we are asking for a different structure,” said Sauerbrunn.
If equal wasn’t the right word then, it is the buzz word now.
USWNT players Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press were on the TODAY show on August 15 week, after the negotiations broke down.
“If it’s not equal, there’s no deal that we can get to,” Rapinoe says. “This isn’t bargaining. You either value us equally and show that or you don’t.”
This fight has been going on forever.Christen Press
This battle is clearly about more than just dollars.
According the U.S. Soccer, the women’s team have more staff than the men plus better travel conditions. In fact, the women’s team chartered more flights than the men in 2018/2019 — because of their game schedule. In 2017, the men chartered more flights based upon their schedules.
U.S. Soccer is investing in the women’s game for the rest of time…Neil Buethe, U.S. Soccer’s Senior Manager of Communications
What everyone deserves is a sense of equality … whatever that means.
U.S. Soccer plans to offer the women another opportunity to restructure their CBA but the battle has taken on a political spin in recent months.
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an equal pay law before the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s victory parade in NYC and was quoted as saying, “You [women] should get paid the same amount whatever the job is” — and equal pay is an unquestionable right.
#BREAKING: I just signed new pay equity legislation at the #USWNTParade.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) July 10, 2019
The women’s soccer team plays the same game that the men’s soccer players play — only better. If anything, the men should get paid less.
Thank you @USWNT for helping lead this movement for change! pic.twitter.com/qHy2aYs2Tl
Now, the equal pay battle has taken on the World Cup as a possible ‘hostage’ with Reps. Doris Matsui of California and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut bill which proposes to withhold federal funds from the 2026 FIFA World Cup which unless equal pay is instituted for men’s and women’s soccer teams. The U.S., Canada and Mexico won the united bid from North America to host the upcoming Men’s World Cup last year.
The 70 co-sponsors of Matsui’s bill reflect the growing national support against any perceived or real gender discrimination. The question is when you start with very different contracts, what does the same mean?
The bottom line is who cares about
these independent salaryand benefit itemized if the perception is that the women who play for our country are not equally respected?
While U.S. Soccer’s president Carlos Cordeiro wrote in his July 29,
“Over the past decade, U.S. Soccer has paid our Women’s National Team more than our Men’s National Team. From 2010 through 2018, U.S. Soccer paid our women $34.1 million in salaries and game bonuses and we paid our men $26.4 million.”
Cordeiro also refers to U.S. Soccer’s “unprecedented investments in our women’s program,” and calls on fans to spend more money on the women’s side of the sport as a solution. While this may not be the basis of the legal argument presented by U.S. Soccer general counsel’s Lydia Wahlke in a courthouse, this will certainly continue to make headlines.
When talks broke down on August 14, the overwhelming response was sadness on the part of fans, players and even the Federation.
While it is great that soccer is in the headlines, and fabulous to see Time Magazine run articles on the world’s most beautiful game being played in America, is USWNT’s Mediation With U.S. Soccer Broke Down This Week really what we want to see in national news?
The disparity in World Cup prize money and revenue is a major problem, but it the is lingering history of women not being treated fairly that is the real issue.
The best way I can think of to end this article is what Women’s World Cup winner Brandi Chastain said to me recently: Chastain as you may remember was on the victorious 1999 Women’s World Cup squad and scored the winning penalty shot, tearing off her jersey in the iconic and famous shot of her celebrating on the field.
The disparity over pay dates back to before this famous ’99 team was formed.
“How can we still be talking about this?”Women’s World Cup winner Brandi Chastain
It is clearly time for this to be resolved.