Members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team filed a complaint with the federal government this week for being paid less than their male counterparts.
The players — Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Rebecca Sauerbrunn, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe — filed the complaint, dated March 29, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the U.S. Soccer Federation, the filing shows.
“The women on the team are very much aware of their role and responsibility to bring this issue to the forefront, not just for themselves but as a model for women in general,” said their attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, during a phone interview Thursday. “They really do hope that this filing will lead to some progress on this issue.”
The complaint highlighted instances where members of the women’s team were paid less than their male peers, ranging from sponsorship appearances and per-diems to game compensation.
In 2015 World Cup play, for example, the filing outlined that “women earned four times less than the men while performing demonstrably better.” Last year, the women won their third World Cup, while the men have not advanced past the quarterfinals in the modern era. (They placed third in 1930.)
While Kessler said pay disparities between women and men is nothing new, he said he believes this is the first filing to investigate gender pay discrimination in professional sports.
“Discrimination has happened forever, but in terms of legal actions, this is the first time I think that there’s been an EEOC complaint on this,” he said.
Interestingly, the filing mentioned one instance where the U.S. Soccer Federation paid women and men the same for playing professional soccer: the Olympic Games.
The Federation offered equal pay of $15,000 to each women’s and men’s national team member who qualified to play in the Olympics and another $15,000 to everyone who made the roster.
“The Federation’s decision to pay the men and women equal compensation for Olympic play only highlights the unjustified and discriminatory animus underlying its decision to pay women differently than men in nearly all other aspects,” according to the filing.
The filing asserts that these disparities occurred despite record revenues from the women’s team.
According to a budget report from the U.S. Soccer Federation, the women’s team is projected to bring in more than $17 million in revenues, including a $5 million surplus for fiscal year 2017, nearly doubling their male counterparts, who are expected to run a deficit.
The next step is that the federal agency will launch an independent investigation that could take six months into these claims to decide the Federation broke the law, Kessler said. If there was a violation, the agency could negotiate a consent agreement, or pursue enforcement, he said.
The players filed the complaint after collective bargaining between members of the women’s team and the Federation failed to produce more equitable pay, Kessler said.
The U.S. Soccer Federation issued a written statement in response to the filing: “For 30 years, we have been a world leader in promoting the women’s game and are proud of the long-standing commitment we have made to building women’s soccer in the United States and furthering opportunities in soccer for young women and girls around the world.”
This development is the latest when pay discrimination in professional sports has come to the public’s attention.
Recently, the world’s top tennis player Novak Djokovic asked if women deserved equal pay in professional tennis. He later apologized. The Guardian collected data that illustrated how those disparities played out over time during major tennis tournaments, including the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.
And the average player’s salary in the Women’s National Basketball Association amounts to about $75,000, Vice and other media outlets have reported. By comparison, the average player’s salary for the National Basketball Association during the 2013-2014 season was roughly 66 times greater, or $4.9 million, according to Forbes.
Graphic by Vanessa Dennis