LOS ANGELES (CN) - The U.S. women’s soccer team secured a key ruling Friday when a federal judge in Los Angeles granted class certification in their equal pay lawsuit against the sport’s national governing body.
The 28-member squad, winners of this year’s Women’s World Cup tournament in France, sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March claiming decades of gender discrimination, including unequal pay, despite achieving “unmatched success” on the international stage.
The players – including team stars Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe – claim soccer officials have only paid lip service to stated goals of gender equity.
The federation has said that both national teams operate under separate and distinct labor agreements and that womens’ contracts can be supplemented by their salaries in the domestic professional women’s league.
In their motion to certify their class action under the Equal Pay Act, the players said they could have earned millions of dollars in compensation over the last five years if they’d been paid under the structure for the men’s national team.
U.S. Soccer Federation opposed the motion and argued in court papers that a class action would unnecessarily expand the lawsuit to include all players called into national team duty.
Additionally, the Chicago-based federation argues that the four class representatives – Morgan, Rapinoe, Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn – lack standing to represent the class because they earned more than any male national team member between 2014 and 2019.
But the players’ attorneys fired back in court papers supporting class certification, saying the women have only earned more because of the number of games played, and their success in those matches, even under the federation’s “indisputably discriminatory” pay structure.
Attorneys for the women said the four class representatives could have each earned at least $2.5 million under the compensation policy for the men’s national team.
U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner dismissed the federation’s arguments, writing in a 15-page ruling that the women’s rate of pay - not annual compensation - is the key factor in determining labor violations under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII.
“To hold otherwise would yield an ‘absurd result,’ as this would mean not only that ‘an employer who pays a woman $10 per hour and a man $20 per hour would not violate the EPA as long as the woman negated the obvious disparity by working twice as many hours but also that a woman in this scenario would not even have standing to challenge the complained-of practice in the first place,” Klausner wrote in the ruling. “Congress simply could not have intended such a result.”
Klausner also certified class members’ claims that they were forced to play on artificial turf fields, provided fewer charter flights and offered fewer promotional resources on a more frequent basis than their male counterparts.
“The failure to provide the WNT with equal working conditions is a real (not abstract) injury which affects each plaintiff in a personal and individual way,” Klausner wrote in the order. “Indeed, plaintiffs have submitted declarations establishing that WNT players were subject to discriminatory working conditions.”
The injunctive relief class includes any woman listed on the national team roster between Feb 4, 2015 and Friday, while the damages class includes players on the roster between March 8, 2016 and the present.
Attorneys at the firm Winston & Strawn were appointed as class counsel.
A spokesperson for the Chicago-based federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the players, applauded the ruling and said that Klausner rejected the federation’s “tired arguments” justifying the current pay structure.
“This is a historic step forward in the struggle to achieve equal pay,” Levinson said in a statement. “We are so pleased that the Court has recognized USSF’s ongoing discrimination against women players – rejecting USSF’s tired arguments that women must work twice as hard and accept lesser working conditions to get paid the same as men.”
Levinson said that players have demanded that U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro lead the federation towards ending “unlawful discrimination against women now.”
The women’s national team has won three World Cup tournaments, including in 2015, four Olympic gold medals and is currently ranked first in the world by soccer’s international governing body.
Meanwhile, the men’s national team failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup tournament in Russia and have never won the international competition.