LOS ANGELES (CN) – With just months to go before the Women’s World Cup in France, all 28 members of the current U.S. women’s soccer team sued their national governing body Friday – International Women’s Day – claiming years of gender discrimination and inequitable pay.
The U.S women’s national team, holders of Women’s World Cup trophy, say in their 24-page federal class action filed in Los Angeles that they’ve been paid less money than their male counterparts for years despite achieving “unmatched success” on the international stage.
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 women’s national team has won three World Cup tournaments, most recently in 2015, four Olympic gold medals and is currently ranked number 1 in the world by soccer’s international governing body.
According to the women, the United States Soccer Federation – employers of both the men’s and women’s teams – “has utterly failed to promote gender equality” in the national organization.
“It has stubbornly refused to treat its female employees who are members of the women’s national team equally to its male employees who are members of the men’s national team,” the women say in their complaint, adding that the federation allocates fewer marketing resources for women and books fewer chartered flights for them for international games.
A spokesperson for the federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Plaintiffs – which include national team stars such as Carli Lloyd, Christen Press, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe – claim officials have only paid lip service to stated goals of gender equity and blame “market realities” for the pay gap.
The women lobbied the federation for fair pay in 2012 through their union, the Women’s National Player Association, but were rejected and told they would only be paid in games where they beat a team ranked in the top 10 internationally, according to the lawsuit.
The union, which negotiated the team’s current contract which runs through 2021, is not a party to the lawsuit. In a statement, the union said it “will continue to seek improvement in pay and working conditions through the labor-management and collective bargaining process” and hopes for “a positive, speedy resolution” to the lawsuit.
Friday’s class action stems from a 2016 wage discrimination complaint some of the plaintiffs filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued them notices of right to sue on Feb. 5.
Under the current pay structure, male national team players earn a minimum of $5,000 per game, which can rise as high as $6,250 or $17,625 per game depending on the international ranking of the opposing team.
Between 2013 and 2016, women’s national team members could only earn a maximum annual salary of $72,000 plus bonuses for games related to the World Cup and the Olympics.
In a statement, women’s team co-captain Alex Morgan said, “Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that. We believe that fighting for gender equality in sports is a part of that responsibility. As players, we deserved to be paid equally for our work, regardless of our gender.”
In addition to salaries on par with those of the men’s team, the women seek an unspecified amount in back pay, a finding that the federation’s practices are unlawful and a court order enjoining federation staff from continuing their practices.
They are represented by Diana Hughes Leiden and others from the firm Winston & Strawn.