US women's soccer players sue for equal treatment just months before World Cup

Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

LOS ANGELES -- For the second time in three years, members of the world champion U.S. women's soccer team have sued their governing federation, alleging systemic gender-based discrimination in wages and other terms.

All 28 members of the national team player pool are asking for compensation and working conditions equitable to what the U.S. Soccer Federation provides to the men's team national team, who have similar job responsibilities. The players are also seeking damages, including back pay.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Friday, which was International Women's Day, comes less than three months before the three-time world champions are scheduled to open defense of their title in the Women's World Cup in France.

"The bottom line is simple: It is wrong for us to be paid and valued less for our work because of our gender," said defender Becky Sauerbrunn, a former co-captain. "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."

In 2016, five women's national team players filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging the federation with wage discrimination. The women took that fight into negotiations for a new four-year collective bargaining agreement with the federation in 2017, winning raises in base pay and bonuses, improved travel benefits and control over some licensing and marketing deals.

At the time, players on the women's team were paid $1,350 for a win over a top-10 team; the men received $17,625. The men's World Cup bonuses of $68,750 were more than four times higher, and the men received more in training camp per diem allowances and for sponsor appearances.

Even with a 30 percent increase won in collective bargaining for pay and bonuses -- which could allow some women to earn as much as $200,000, depending on World Cup and Olympic bonuses -- pay is still not equal.

"This lawsuit is an effort by the plaintiffs to address those serious issues through the exercise of their individual rights," the national team's players union, which is not a party to the action, said in a statement.

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In the past, job actions by the U.S. women have inspired protests for equitable treatment from women's teams in Scotland, Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Brazil and Norway.

Players in Ireland won modest increases in pay and bonuses after boycotting a training camp, and the Scottish team implemented a media blackout ahead of the 2017 European Championships. A pay dispute prompted the Danish team to sit out a World Cup qualifying match, resulting in a four-year ban and a fine against its federation. Norway's women's team, despite winning pay equality with its men's team last year, will likely enter this summer's tournament without Ada Hegerberg, voted the best player in the world last year, who refuses to play for her country because of what she called a lack of respect for women players in Norway.

Friday's court filing under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act effectively ends the EEOC complaint, but it comes at a delicate time for both the team and the federation with the quadrennial World Cup kicking off in Paris on June 7. Thus far, the players have not threatened a boycott or job action connected to the tournament.

The Women's World Cup is the most lucrative and important competition in the sport. Four years ago, the U.S. federation made $2 million when the women's team defeated Japan in the World Cup final, a game watched by 27 million TV viewers in the U.S., the largest-ever domestic audience for a soccer match.

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