Does the US Women’s Soccer Team have an Equal Pay claim?

On Sunday, July 7, 2019, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team won their fourth World Cup. Unfortunately, the celebrations are tempered by one tiny detail: female soccer players still are not making as much as their male counterparts. Thus, alongside the U-S-A chants, fans were also shouting “Equal Pay.”

Though the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (“USWNT”) is ranked No. 1 in the world and has won both four World Cups and four Olympic Gold medals, female soccer players are earning only 89% of what of what their male counterparts make, according to the Washington Post. Within that same article, the Post explains that in terms of the World Cup, the women’s team will earn about $30 million if they win; whereas the men would earn $38 million per player.

On March 8, 2019, members of the USWNT filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (“USSF”) for violations of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which both protect employees from gender-based discrimination in pay and in terms of employment. The complaint alleges, among other things, that:

  • The women’s team played 19 more games than the men’s team between 2015 through 2018;
  • The women’s team earns more in profit and/or revenue than the men’s team;
  • The women’s team is subject to equal, if not more strenuous, demands as the men’s team and must adhere to the same rules of the game, including field size, ball size, duration, and penalties; and yet
  • The women’s team is making less money than the men’s team.

Shockingly, the complaint alleges that:

In response to the WNT players’ demand for equal pay in 2016, a representative of the USSF admitted that the USSF has and will continue to have a practice of gender-based pay discrimination. The representative pronounced, “market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men.”

The Gender Pay Gap Affects Every Career Field

Though the USWNT is leading the charge for pay equality, the disparities affect all women across all fields. According to the American Association of University Women, on average, a woman makes only 80% of what an equally situated man makes. This figure is worse for women of color, with black women earning only 61% and Hispanic and Latina women making only 53%. Interestingly, women with increased levels of education are more likely to be affected by wage disparities, with secondary degree recipients earning only 74% of what their male colleagues make, on average. By the AAUW’s figures, pay equity will not be achieved until 2059.

So, what can be done to fix pay gaps now?

The USWNT is on the right track. If a woman finds herself being paid less than her male counterparts, she has the option to bring suit against her employer under the Equal Pay Act or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Though the goals of the Acts are similar in that both aim to prevent discrimination, their applications vary somewhat.

Under the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), an employee must show that (1) an employer paid different wages to employees of different genders (2) for equal work on jobs requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibilities and (3) these jobs are performed under similar working conditions. The “equal work” requirement can be difficult to meet. For example, in the USWNT complaint, many factual allegations are centered on showing that the women’s team is forced to meet the same training and conditioning requirements as the men’s team and that they are subject to the same standards imposed by the USSF. If the judge finds that the USWNT is not performing equal work, then an Equal Pay Act claim will fail.

However, even if the Equal Pay Act claim fails, the USWNT members can rely on Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, which does not have an “equal work” requirement. Instead, the employee must establish that she, as a woman, is not being paid equally for similar work. As a trade-off for this relaxed standard, though, the employee must show that the employer intended to discriminate. The comment by the USSF official stating that, “market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men,” could be an example of such intent.

If you feel that you and/or your coworkers are being denied equal pay, please contact the attorneys at Legare, Attwood & Wolfe at 470-823-4000.