by Daniel Roodt
The dispute over equal pay between the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) and the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) was instituted on International Women’s Day in 2019.
The players of the USWNT filed a class-action lawsuit against the USSF after talks between the two parties regarding equal pay failed to yield any results.
The court date is currently scheduled for 5 May 2020.
The USWNT argues that the USSF violated the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. The players claim they are owed close to $67 million in backdated payments. These payments are for previous tournaments and matches that the team competed in.
Earlier this month, the USSF and the USWNT filed further court documents in response to both parties' requests for summary judgement.
According to Lawyers.com, “ A motion for summary judgment (sometimes called an “MSJ”) is a request for the court to rule that the other party has no case, because there are no facts at issue.”
The arguments made by the USSF in the court papers they filed have drawn a lot of criticism from players, coaches, and sponsors from across the game.
As per The Athletic, the USSF has argued that the ability levels between the US Women’s National Team and the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) are fundamentally different. They argue that the “Overall soccer playing ability” for the USMNT is “materially influenced by the level of certain physical attributes, such as speed and strength, required for the job.”
In this argument, they refer to a deposition by USWNT player Carli Lloyd who stated that the women’s team would struggle to compete against professional male teams. The USSF said that “The USWNT could not compete successfully against senior men’s national teams because competing against 16- or 17- year-old boys ‘is about as old as (the USWNT) can go.’”
The Guardian further elaborates on these arguments saying that the attorney representing the federation argued that playing for the men’s team “requires a higher level of skill,” and it wasn’t “a sexist stereotype” but “indisputable science.”
The USSF further argued that there is more pressure on the male players because they are forced to compete in front of hostile fans. As per The Athletic, the USSF contend that the men, “Routinely play matches (important World Cup qualifiers, in particular) throughout Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. … Opposing fan hostility encountered in these MNT road environments, especially in Mexico and Central America, is unmatched by anything the WNT must face while trying to qualify for an important tournament.”
The USWNT has responded to these arguments in a number of ways. The main focus of their opposition is that the Equal Pay Act does not require identical work for identical pay. Furthermore, they argue that the purpose of the act is to ensure that discrimination based on biological differences is not taken into account.
They argue, “That biological distinction is not a justification for discrimination — it is the prohibited discrimination itself.”
The arguments of the USSF have been met with an enormous backlash. This criticism has led to the USSF President Carlos Cordeiro resigning.
This backlash comes after he also published an open letter on the eve of International Women’s Day on 7 March 2020. The Athletic state that Cordeiro wrote, “we have offered to provide identical compensation to our women’s and men’s players for all matches controlled by U.S. Soccer.”
The contents of this letter were rebuffed by representatives of the USWNT who claimed that “The USSF letter is riddled with falsehoods.”
Cordeiro has since been replaced by the USSF vice-president and former USWNT player Cindy Parlow Cone.
Several corporations that sponsor United States Soccer, as well as many current and former players, have heavily criticised the federation for the contents of the letter and the court filings.
Former USWNT player, Heather O’Reilly, voiced her discontent with the USSF saying, “To read that (U.S. Soccer) thinks this of the USWNT and female athletes, in general, is disgusting and disturbing to me.”
Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber further voiced his displeasure with this stating, “When I saw the media reports of U.S. Soccer’s recent filing, I was shocked and angry. I expressed to the President of the Federation in no uncertain terms how unacceptable and offensive I found the statements in that filing to be.”
Volkswagen U.S., who sponsor the U.S. Soccer Federation, expressed their anger at the court filings, declaring that “We at Volkswagen of America are disgusted by positions taken by U.S. Soccer, and they are simply unacceptable.” They further stated that “We stand by the USWNT and the ideals they represent for the world. We demand that U.S. Soccer rise up to these values.”
Several USWNT players also voiced their displeasure with the court filings. Co-captain and 2019 Ballon d’Or winner, Megan Rapinoe, stated in an interview that “The team was very upset.. And that they’re (the arguments) all false.”
USWNT goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris voiced her dissent on Twitter stating, “Well let it be known how they really feel about us. But here we are still showing up and changing the conversation and the culture of this country. I’m proud of these women. It will all be worth it one day. Count on that. We won’t stop.”
It appears that this dispute is headed to court on 5 May, as neither side is willing to compromise on their position. Whatever decision is taken, will have far-reaching implications for the future of U.S. Soccer and will define the status of the USSF and the USWNT.
Meg Linehan via The Athletic
Megan Rapinoe via Twitter.
Volkswagen USA via Twitter.
Ashlyn Harris via Twitter.
Major League Soccer Via Twitter.
Caitlin Murray via The Guardian.