Star players take on U.S. Soccer's gender wage gap

Five key players on the US Women's National Soccer Team filed a wage discrimination complaint on Wednesday against U.S. Soccer. The players say they are paid far less than the men's team despite greater success on the field.

Tony Gutierrez/AP/File
United States' Carli Lloyd (10) and Alex Morgan (13) wait for play to continue during a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament soccer match against Mexico on Feb. 13, in Frisco, Texas. Ms. Lloyd and Ms. Morgan have filed a wage discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, along with fellow players Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, and Becky Sauerbrunn.

Five members of the US Women’s National Soccer Team have filed a federal complaint charging the United States Soccer Federation with wage discrimination, saying they are paid far less than their counterparts on the men’s national team.

The players – Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, and Becky Sauerbrunn – say that despite the team’s status as the reigning Women’s World Cup and Olympic champion, they are paid almost four times less than the US men’s national team.

They say the disparity is particularly galling as the women’s national team is a driving economic force for the U.S. Soccer Federation, the sport’s governing body in the United States, producing nearly $20 million in revenue in 2015, according to the federation's most recent financial report.

"We have proven our worth over the years," Ms. Lloyd said in an interview on NBC's "Today," adding, "The pay disparity between the men and the women is just too large."

In their complaint, filed Wednesday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws barring workplace discrimination, the players state they were paid far less for everything from bonuses and appearance fees to per diems.

In one example, players on the men’s team have received between $5,000 and $17,625 for each game they play beyond the 20 friendly matches they're required to play in a year, while players on the women's team have received nothing for additional games, the EEOC filing says, ESPN W reports.

The complaint, which calls for an investigation of U.S. Soccer, comes amid a growing battle about equal pay for male and female athletes in several sports, including professional tennis.

"This is the strongest case of discrimination against women athletes in violation of law that I have ever seen," Jeffrey Kessler, the players' lawyer, told The New York Times. Though five players signed the complaint, they’ve said they are filing with the EEOC on behalf of the entire team.

The complaint is the latest step in an escalating battle between U.S. Soccer and the women’s national team.

"This is not only about equal pay – we get paid less than half of our male counterparts – but also equal treatment. We deserve to play in top-notch, grass-only facilities like the U.S. Men’s National Team, not dangerous turf fields," Alex Morgan wrote on her Facebook page today, referring to the fact that all of the women's World Cup games in 2015 were played on artificial turf in Canada. "We want to have decent travel accommodations. We have dedicated our lives to this sport and our country and we love soccer and our fans. We think it’s high time for employers to truly address the inequality and do not only what is fair, but what is right."

The two sides have been involved in an increasingly bitter dispute over the collective bargaining agreement the women’s national team negotiated with U.S. Soccer, which can include how much players are paid.

"While we have not seen this complaint and can’t comment on the specifics of it," U.S. Soccer said in a statement, "We are disappointed about this action. We have been a world leader in women's soccer and are proud of the commitment we have made to building the women’s game in the United States over the past 30 years."

The women's team maintains its agreement has expired, while U.S. Soccer argues that the agreement is still in effect through the end of 2016 because of a memorandum of understanding the two sides signed in 2013.

In February, coincidentally on National Girls and Women in Sports Day, U.S. Soccer filed suit against the women's national team in federal court in Chicago to resolve the dispute. Oral arguments in that case are expected to begin May 25, according to Sports Illustrated.

Mr. Kessler, a prominent sports lawyer who has a number of players’ unions and athletes (including football players Tom Brady and Ray Rice) in disputes with professional leagues, noted that the men's and women's teams have "identical work requirements."

"We continue to be told we should be grateful just to have the opportunity to play professional soccer, to get paid for doing it," said Ms. Solo, a goalkeeper and two-time Olympic goal medalist who has been playing for the team since 2000, in the "Today" interview on Thursday.

"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," she added.

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