U.S. Soccer responds to discrimination lawsuit filed by women's national team players

United States forwards Christen Press (23) and Alex Morgan (13) during an international friendly soccer match between United States and Belgium Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Los Angeles. United States won 6-0. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
A month before the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup kicks off in France, the United States Soccer Federation responded to a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by 28 players on the defending champion U.S. women's national team, including Christen Press (right), Alex Morgan (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)

The United States Soccer Federation has responded to the lawsuit filed against it earlier this year by 28 members of the world champion U.S. women’s national team who claim “institutionalized gender discrimination” by the USSF in the form of unequal pay compared to their counterparts on the men’s national team.

In the suit, filed on March 8 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the players — including headliners Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe — contend that the USSF paid them less money for equal work while also denying them equal conditions for games, training, and travel compared to players on the men’s team. On Monday, just over a month before the USWNT will defend its title at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, the federation denied the allegations in its response to the complaint.

The federation claims that any conduct alleged in the complaint “was for legitimate business reasons and not for any discriminatory or other unlawful purpose.” The crux of the USSF’s argument is that the men’s and women’s national teams “are physically and functionally separate organizations that perform services for U.S. Soccer in physically separate spaces and compete in different competitions, venues and countries at different times; have different coaches, staff and leadership; have separate collective bargaining agreements; and have separate budgets that take into account the different revenue that the teams generate.”

The response also called the USWNT’s claim that they brought in more money than the men’s team during the 2016 fiscal year “misleading and inaccurate,” and said that the women’s declined adopt the same pay structure as the men, who are only compensated when they report for national team duty. Unlike their USMNT counterparts, the women are paid full-time salaries that include health benefits in addition to performance bonuses.

The federation stated that women’s national team matches generate less revenue than the men’s, but denied that they artificially depress ticket prices and don’t market the women’s side as well.

As for the travel issue, U.S. Soccer denied the suit’s claim that “the USSF has complete control over whether it requires the WNT and and MNT players to take commercial flights or chooses to charter flights for the teams. The federation countered that “in many instances flights are controlled by FIFA and other entities,” although that would be for a small fraction of the USWNT’s games.

A spokesperson for the players blasted the federation’s stance in an interview with the Associated Press.

“There is no legal basis for USSF’s claim that it is anything other than a single employer operating both the men’s and women’s teams — who face drastically unequal conditions and pay under their shared employer,” Molly Levinson told the AP. “The USSF cannot justify its violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII by pointing to the teams’ separate collective bargaining agreements or any factor other than sex. Even as the most decorated American soccer team in history, USSF treats the women’s team as ‘less-than’ equal compared to their male colleagues. We look forward to a trial next year after the World Cup.”

This isn’t the first lawsuit brought by active national team players. In 2016, five members of the squad alleged wage discrimination by the USSF in a filing with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The two sides eventually agreed to a new CBA in April 2017 that runs through 2021.

The Women’s World Cup kicks off June 7. The United States plays opens its tournament slate four days later, when they take on Thailand in Reims. The Americans will close out the group stage with matches against Chile and Sweden.