Five top female players from the world champion U.S. Women's National Team filed a federal complaint Wednesday morning with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That commission (hereinafter EEOC) is the federal agency charged with enforcing civil rights laws in the workplace context. Here's a brief primer on why once again, the USSF appears headed to court with its world champion women's soccer team.
Who is Involved: The U.S. Soccer Federation, under the continued stewardship of Sunil Gulati, and the following five members of the 2015 World Cup Champion USWNT are named in the complaint: captains Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe.
Why It Has Happened:
The short version is that despite four year revenues that are extremely similar- the men are at 60.2 million; the women 51.2-- the US Soccer Federation compensates men at a rate far better than the women. For a longer, detailed and excellent look at revenue and budgetary breakdowns between the men and women, check out this piece from Jonathan Tannenwald.
The lawsuit contends that the wage differential violates the civil rights of the named litigants, and as a result, the other women who play for the U.S. Women's National team. The complaint itself is procedural- that is, it doesn't at this point request anything outside of a federal investigation into U.S. Soccer and its wage practices by the EEOC.
The complaint cites budget figures released by U.S. Soccer last month, and notes that in some instances women are paid only 40 percent of what men's national teamers earn, despite doing work that the USWNT players involved allege requires equal effort, skill and responsibility. In a statement.
One of the attorneys for the players is Jeffrey Kessler, a grizzled veteran of many sports labor wars who represented Tom Brady in "Deflate-Gate", among other cases. Kessler said in a statement that the women's complaint was "the strongest case of discrimination against women athletes in violation of law that I've ever seen."
The suit comes only two full months after the U.S. Soccer Federation filed its own lawsuit against the U.S. Women's National Team in an Illinois federal court. That lawsuit was filed in anticipation of the U.S. Women's National Team potentially going on strike. In the suit, the U.S. Soccer Federation sought a federal court order declaring that a memorandum of understanding signed by the U.S. Women's National Team players association and U.S. Soccer had the legal operation of a collective bargaining agreement. The players association, again led by Jeffrey Kessler, countered that the memorandum of understanding had less reaching impact, and was not the equivalent of a CBA. That suit is still pending, though many legal analysts feel that U.S. Soccer will prevail.
Can the Women Win?
Given the numbers in the lawsuit, absolutely, it would appear that the women have a strong chance of getting the very basic request they ask for in the complaint, an investigation. If the EEOC chooses to investigate, they will then make a determination of whether USSF engages in the practice of providing unequal pay to the men and women despite the women doing work that is substantially the same in its skill requirement, obligations and responsibility. If they find there to be a violation, remedial measures can be ordered and damages, both remedial, like backpay, or punitive damages (punishment) can be awarded.
What is U.S. Soccer Saying?
U.S. Soccer issued a statement this afternoon, noting that its "efforts to be advocates for women's soccer are unwavering" and lauding its own 30 year effort to be a "world leader in promoting the women's game." They expressed their disappointment in the course of action the players are taking and expressed what they are representing as a continued commitment to "negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that addresses compensation with the Women's National Team Player Association when the current CBA expires at the end of this year." While the women would not agree that there is a CBA, the statement is otherwise fairly conciliatory and predictable given the context.