SAN FRANCISCO — Players on the U.S. women’s national soccer team urged a federal appeals court to reinstate their equal pay lawsuit, saying their greater success than the American men was not taken into account by a trial court judge who dismissed their case.
Players led by Alex Morgan sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March 2019, contending they have not been paid equitably under their collective bargaining agreement that runs through December 2021, compared to what the men’s team receives under its agreement that expired in December 2018. The women asked for more than $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner in Los Angeles threw out the pay claim in May 2020, ruling the women rejected a pay-to-play structure similar to the one in the men’s agreement and accepted greater base salaries and benefits than the men, who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The women asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overrule the trial court’s ruling and put their wage claim back on track.
“It held that compensation for the women and men was equal because the teams received about the same amount per game,” the players said of in their appellate brief filed Friday. “That approach accounted for one measure of pay (games played) but not the other (performance). That was a significant error, because the performance bonuses make up most of the players’ pay, and the women were the best in the world, while the men were much less successful.”
The players said that “in effect, the court held that pay is equal if a woman can obtain the same amount of money as a man by working more and performing better.”
The USSF brief is due by Aug. 23 and the players’ optional reply brief is due 21 days after the USSF submission. The case likely will be assigned to a three-judge panel for oral argument.
“U.S. Soccer is committed to equal pay and to ensuring that our women’s national team remains the best in the world,” the federation said in a statement. “In ruling in favor of U.S. Soccer on the players’ pay discrimination claims, the district court rightly noted that the women’s national team negotiated for a different pay structure than the men’s national team, and correctly held that the women’s national team was paid more both cumulatively and on an average per-game basis than the men’s national team.”
The U.S. has won the last two Women’s World Cups and headed to this summer’s Olympic women’s soccer tournament as the favorite, then lost its opener 3-0 to Sweden on Wednesday in Tokyo.
The sides reached a settlement Dec. 1 on working condition claims that calls for charter flights, hotel accommodations, venue selection and professional staff support equitable to that of the men’s team. The USSF says it pays equally for matches it controls but not for tournaments organized by soccer’s world governing body.
FIFA awarded $400 million in prize money for the 32 teams at the 2018 men’s World Cup, including $38 million to champion France. It awarded $30 million for the 24 teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, including $4 million to the U.S. after the Americans won their second straight title.
FIFA has increased the total to $440 million for the 2022 men’s World Cup, and its president, Gianni Infantino, has proposed FIFA double the women’s prize money to $60 million for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, in which FIFA has increased the teams to 32.
Players faulted the USSF for selling marketing agreements that cover both the men and women.
“The federation refused (and still refuses) to allow companies to enter sponsorship deals solely with the USWNT, even though some sponsors want to do that because they view the USWNT as the more marketable team,” the women said in their brief.