US Soccer Abandons Skill Argument in Women’s Equal Pay Lawsuit

U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring against Canada during a women’s Olympic qualifying soccer match on Feb. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — After being criticized for claiming the U.S. women’s national soccer team should earn less money because their game requires less skill than the men’s game, the sport’s U.S. governing body on Thursday finalized removal of the claim from court filings.

The U.S women’s national team — holders of the Women’s World Cup trophy — say in their federal class action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles that they’ve been paid less money than male national team members despite achieving “unmatched success” for years on the global stage.

The players — including team stars Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe — claim the U.S. Soccer Federation has only paid lip service to stated goals of gender equity, for example by not paying women the same game bonuses men’s national team players receive.

The federation has argued in court papers both national teams operate under separate and distinct collective bargaining agreements and that many women’s contracts are supplemented by their salaries in the National Women’s Soccer League.

The governing body said in a court filing Monday the women ignore the full scope of their compensation, including signing bonuses, health insurance, salaries for national team play and payments to their union for licensing rights.

Any differences in compensation have nothing to do with discrimination, the federation claims, adding that the women – through their union – bargained for the contract they have in place.

“The female players opted for more security and less risk, demanding multiple forms of guaranteed compensation and benefits,” the federation’s filing said. “In contrast, the male players assumed significant risk in their compensation; their payment is dependent on their success on the field, with no guaranteed payment.”

Fire and sulphur rained down on U.S. Soccer after it argued playing for the women’s national team required less skill, responsibility and ability than playing for the men’s national team.

The federation also claimed current compensation levels were fair because the U.S. men’s team are “bigger, stronger, faster” than the women’s team.

The claims drew heavy criticism from current and former U.S. Women’s National Team players.

During a match in early March, the women’s national team players wore their jerseys inside out – to hide the U.S. Soccer crest – in protest.

The federation’s former president Carlos Cordeiro resigned from his post shortly after.

Both parties agreed to remove the argument from the motion.

“USSF no longer disputes that the jobs of the WNT and MNT players require equal skill, effort, and responsibility – and therefore has necessarily conceded that they perform equal work,” the federation’s filing said. “USSF also does not dispute that the men’s and women’s teams perform their jobs under similar working conditions.”

A spokesperson for the women’s union, the Women’s National Player Association, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The stipulation means the argument won’t factor in a trial scheduled to begin May 5, 2020 in federal court in Los Angeles before U.S. District Court Judge Gary Klausner.

Still in play is the federation’s argument that the women’s team’s Equal Pay Act claims fail since they’ve not proven U.S. Soccer paid women less than men who played in a similar capacity on the national level.

“Appropriate male comparators are actual, identified male employees who perform equal work in jobs requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility, under similar working conditions, and who are similarly situated with respect to any other factors, such as seniority, that affect the wage scale,” the federation said in a memo Monday.

The women’s team says in their own summary judgment motion an award of $67 million in damages would provide fair compensation for years of unequal pay.

The women’s national team has won three World Cup tournaments, four Olympic gold medals and is currently ranked number 1 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.

The federation has said in court filings that World Cup organizer FIFA – soccer’s global governing body – shares the blame for vastly smaller cash prizes for women national teams who clinch the coveted trophy.

At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA awarded $38 million to the French men’s national soccer team but awarded only $4 million a year later to the U.S. women’s team when they took home first place in the tournament.

“Unfortunately, although FIFA has nearly doubled the available prize money to winners of the Women’s World Cup every tournament since 2011, women’s soccer is still far from attaining the level of popularity that men’s soccer enjoys, and the larger prize monies that come with it,” the federation said in court papers.

A spokesperson for the federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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