“Equal Play, Equal Pay”: U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Fights for Equal Compensation

Lev Craig

Last week, we reported on groundbreaking equal pay legislation that was recently passed in Massachusetts. Yesterday, the U.S. women’s soccer team played their last match of the 2016 Olympics, but are still competing for equal pay in an ongoing case against U.S. Soccer, the entity that manages and pays the U.S. women’s team.

Unlike other U.S. sports leagues, such as the NBA and the WNBA, whose men’s and women’s teams are controlled by separate organizations, the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams are both run by U.S. Soccer. However, the two teams are treated very differently, particularly in terms of their compensation, which has been an ongoing source of friction between U.S. Soccer and the the women’s team. In March, five players on the U.S. women’s soccer team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming that U.S. Soccer had discriminated against female players by paying them less than their male counterparts.

In 2015, expenses for the U.S. men’s soccer team were over $20 million higher than those for the women’s team. Those expenses included a $3.2 million salary for the men’s team head coach; in contrast, the head coach for the women’s team was paid $185,000. In their EEOC complaint, the women’s team alleged that female players earned just 40% of what male players were paid, due in part to differences in compensation structures between the two teams which mean that male players can receive tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses, while women are not eligible to receive bonuses.

Despite U.S. Soccer’s argument that pay disparities are due to differences in the two teams’ profitability and popularity, the women’s team has actually been more successful than the men’s team in recent years. The women’s team brought in multimillion dollar profits for U.S. Soccer in 2015, while the men’s team actually caused U.S. Soccer to lose money in the same fiscal year. Female players have won three World Cups and four Olympic championships, whereas the men’s team’s best World Cup performance occurred when they received third place—in 1930.

The inequalities between the men’s and women’s teams go beyond pay disparities, as well. For example, female players have often had to play in worse conditions than male players. The women’s team has played numerous matches on artificial turf, rather than natural grass. When the men’s team is due to play a match on artificial turf, however, natural grass is put out especially for the game. Artificial turf can create serious safety hazards, as it creates significantly harder, more abrasive surfaces than grass. In one Hawaii match, the women’s team was scheduled to play on an artificial turf field that was in such bad condition that the match had to be cancelled due to safety concerns. And just last month, they had to play on a field that not only was in poor condition, but wasn’t even a soccer field at all: It was actually a minor league baseball field, meaning that it wasn’t even the correct size for a soccer game.

These gender-based inequalities faced by the U.S. women’s team serve as a reminder that pay inequality persists even at the highest professional levels, despite the existence of federal and state laws designed to prevent sex-based pay discrimination. If your employer has discriminated against you because of your gender, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.