Gender discrimination lawsuit by US women’s national soccer team proceeds as 2019 World Cup approaches

Posted in Football Dispute resolution, litigation and investigations

Approximately two months ago, all 28 members of the US senior Women’s National Soccer Team (WNT) filed a class action lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, Inc. (USSF) in a California federal court alleging unequal pay and treatment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act. The lawsuit alleges that the female members of the WNT are consistently paid less than their male counterparts on the U.S. Senior Men’s National Soccer Team (MNT) despite performing the same job responsibilities and exhibiting superior performance, including winning three World Cup titles.  The lawsuit also accuses the USSF of subjecting the women’s players to substantially inferior playing, training, and travel conditions.

This month, the USSF formally answered the complaint and denied the allegations of gender discrimination. USSF claims that the “challenged pay practices are not based on sex” and that any differences in pay are due to “differences in the aggregate revenue generated by the different teams” as well as other factors. USSF’s answer also claims that the players “receive fundamentally different pay structures for performing different work under their separate collective bargaining agreements.” Moreover, Carlos Cordeiro, President of USSF, stated that USSF “agreed to a fair and equitable collective bargaining agreement with the Women’s National Team, which included a contract structure that the players specifically requested to provide them with a guaranteed salary and benefits.”  

The collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) applicable to the two teams are indeed different. The CBA for the WNT provides the women with annual guaranteed salaries with the option to receive smaller match bonuses; whereas the men have a “pay-to-play” structure and are eligible for larger match bonuses. The compensation available to the two teams is also impacted by varying bonus pools determined by The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the world’s governing soccer body. For male teams who participated in the 2018 Men’s World Cup, the bonus pool was US$400 million (and will increase to $440 million for the 2020 Men’s World Cup), whereas the bonus pool for this year’s Women’s World Cup is US$30 million.

As a next step, the lawsuit will proceed in the US District Court for the Central District of California, where, barring any mediation or settlement, the parties will proceed with discovery. Meanwhile, the WNT is preparing to defend its title in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019, commencing in France on June 7, 2019, which may bring more attention to the lawsuit as the women showcase their talent to the world. 

The case is Alex Morgan et al. v. United States Soccer Federation, Inc., Case No. 2:19-CV-01717, US District Court, Central District of California Western Division, before the Honorable R. Gary Klausner. 

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