While the U.S. women’s soccer team just finished a historic run in France to clinch their second consecutive World Cup title, the Americans are currently facing a different battle back home. After former national team goalkeeper Hope Solo brought suit back in August 2018 in the Northern District of California, all 28 members of the women’s national team filed a similar pay discrimination suit in March in the Central District of California alleging that the wage gap between the women’s and men’s national teams is intolerable.
In their complaint, the women provided several examples of the various ways in which men’s players are paid in a disparate manner. For example, from 2013 to 2016, female players earned $15,000 for making the World Cup roster, while men earned $55,000 for accomplishing the same feat. While the men’s team failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, had they done so, each member of the national team would have been eligible to earn up to $68,750. The American women, for their part, earned $37,500 per player for qualifying for this year’s World Cup. Inequalities in pay extend into non-tournament exhibition matches (“friendlies”) in which the women’s team is capped below $100,000 in potential earnings, while the men could earn up to $263,000.
This disparity in earnings appears even more egregious when presented in conjunction with the respective results of each team. While the U.S. women’s national team ranks among the best in the world, now having won four World Cup titles, the men’s team continues to wallow in mediocrity after missing the men’s tournament altogether in 2018.
Solo, for her part, complained that the women’s 2015 World Cup-winning team took home a grand total of $2 million, while the men’s national team – eliminated at the Round of 16 stage of the 2014 tournament – earned $9 million in their losing effort. By comparison’s sake, this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup contains a total purse of $30 million to be divvied amongst the 24 competing national teams. As a result of the American women’s tournament victory, the United States Soccer Federation (“USSF”) will receive $4 million. Of that purse, roughly $110,000 to $120,000 will be paid out to each member of the championship team.
The USSF meanwhile holds steadfast in its position that it is inappropriate to consider the two national programs in conjunction with one another. In support of its claims, the USSF argue that both teams perform different work for different organizations and points to the separate collective bargaining agreements for each team. For example, while women’s national team members are guaranteed a higher base salary, the majority of the men’s compensation comes via bonuses. Therefore, the USSF contends, the women’s national team’s claims are inappropriate under the Equal Pay Act.
In an effort to further support its claims, the USSF points to the disparity in revenue generated by the two national teams. While the Equal Pay Act does allow for disparities in pay where there is a difference in “quality or quantity of production,” the USSF would be careful to make such an argument[KP1] [RG2] . After all, the women’s national team has won four Olympic gold medals and now four World Cups in the past 30 years after Sunday’s domination of the Netherlands, while the men have failed to medal or reach a World Cup semifinal since Herbert Hoover was in office.
While resolution is slow-moving, the women’s claims will surely receive additional support with the team currently in the spotlight on the global stage. Just Sunday, during the American women’s title-clinching victory, chants of “equal pay” could be heard throughout the match. As momentum slowly builds in support of the female athletes, other countries’ national teams are joining in. Australia’s women’s national team has similarly pushed for equal pay in an effort to spread the movement. With public support for the women at an all-time high, public opinion has surely swayed in favor of paying both the men’s and women’s national teams equally. Whether or not the courts feel similarly – only time will tell.
29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1).
Ryan Guerin is an attorney in the Firm’s Labor and Employment & Business Litigation Practice Groups. If you have any questions or concerns about this issue or any other matter, please contact Ryan directly at 813-223-1099.