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Judge Dismisses US Women Football Team’s Equal Pay Claim

The United States women's soccer team had sued their federation, seeking back pay of $66 million under the Equal Pay Act. While dismissing the claims of being underpaid, the judge ruled that the case on discriminatory working conditions go to trial.
Led by Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan the US Women’s National team won the World Cup in France last year, for the fourth time in their history. (Picture courtesy: FIFA Women's World Cup/Twitter)

Led by Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan the US Women’s National team won the World Cup in France last year, for the fourth time in their history. (Picture courtesy: FIFA Women's World Cup/Twitter)

A federal judge dismissed the unequal pay claim by players on the US women’s national football team in a surprising loss for the defending World Cup champions and rejected their claims of being underpaid by the United States Soccer Federation. The case on discriminatory working conditions was allowed to go to trial.

In March 2019, players sued the federation, claiming they have not been paid equally under their collective bargaining agreement to what the men’s national team receives under its labor deal. They asked for more than $66m in damages under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a 32 page ruling, Judge Gary Klausner of the US District Court for Central California, Los Angeles, dismissed the women’s claim of pay discrimination, announcing the ruling in the favour of United States Soccer Federation. Klausner allowed the women’s case to proceed in trial for unfair treatment in areas such as travel, housing and medical support. The hearing is scheduled for June 16 in Los Angeles.

Citing evidence that indicated that the women’s team turned down an offer to be paid along the lines of the US men’s team, the judge said the equal pay claims, which was the central point of the claim, had been dismissed.

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“The history of negotiations between the parties demonstrates that the WNT rejected an offer to be paid under the same pay-to-play structure as the MNT, and the WNT was willing to forgo higher bonuses for benefits, such as greater base compensation and the guarantee of a higher number of contracted players,” Klausner wrote.

“Accordingly, plaintiffs cannot now retroactively deem their CBA (collective bargaining agreement) worse than the MNT CBA by reference to what they would have made had they been paid under the MNT’s pay-to-play terms structure when they themselves rejected such a structure,” he said.

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“We are shocked and disappointed with today’s decision, but we will not give up our hard work for equal pay,” Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the women’s players, said in a statement. “We are confident in our case and steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that girls and women who play this sport will not be valued as lesser just because of their gender.”

Co-captain of the World Cup winning U.S. women’s team, Megan Rapinoe insisted the battle is not over after hearing the decision and took to Twitter to express herself. “We will never stop fighting for EQUALITY,” she wrote on Twitter.

The US women's team had based their initial claim of pay differences due to disparities between prize money distributed by FIFA at the men’s and women’s World Cups. The claim also argued that the women actually made more than the men both overall and by game average, demanded the same bonus structure as the men. 

“Merely comparing what WNT players received under their own CBA with what they would have received under the MNT CBA discounts the value that the team placed on guaranteed benefits they receive under their agreement, which they opted for at the expense of higher performance-based bonuses,” Klausner wrote.

“This issue is insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact for trial,” he added.

Klausner  also cited insufficient evidence for the women to go forward with their claim that the federation discriminated against them by scheduling more games for them on artificial turf than the men had.  

The US Women’s team have won back-to-back World Cups -- their win in France last year was their fourth title in eight editions of the tournament. The US men did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup. 


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