What's behind U.S. women's equal pay suit

The U.S. women's national team took their dispute with U.S. Soccer to a new level as five players -- Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan -- filed an action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging the federation with wage discrimination by paying them far less than the men.

It set off a p.r. battle in which the federation will be no match for the five women -- but what about the legal issues? Do they matter? In the big picture, it's all about reaching a new collective bargaining agreement. The only issues are how much more the women will make and how long will it take for the parties to settle.

The players' complaint:

The women shared just $2 million for winning the 2015 Women's World Cup while the men made $9 million for only making the round of 16 at the 2014 Women's World Cup. In addition, they say on-going win bonuses and per diems they receive are less than those the men receive. (In the EEOC filing, they said they'd earn $99,000 each if they won 20 friendlies while they men would get $100,000 even if they lost all 20 games.)

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Solo said in a statement. “We are the best in the world, have three World Cup Championships, four Olympic Championships, and the USMNT get paid more just to show up than we get paid to win major championships.”

The players are represented Jeffrey Kessler, the New York-based attorney who is no stranger to soccer disputes. The longtime labor and anti-establishment attorney, perhaps best known for his suit against the NCAA, represented the old NASL against the NFL, the MLS Players Association against MLS and the Women's National team Players Association against U.S. Soccer about the validity of their collective bargaining agreement. (Kessler also represents the current NASL, unhappy with proposed changes to U.S. Soccer's Division I sanctioning.)

"This is one of the strongest cases of gender discrimination I have ever seen," he told USA TODAY Sports. "We have a situation here where the women's have outperformed the men on the field and in every other way yet earn fraction of what the men are paid."

Kessler added that the complaint was a "pretty open and shut case." Whether that is true is for the attorneys to argue, but it is certainly a complicated case.

Both the women and men are paid under the terms of separate collective bargaining agreements -- in the the case of the women, they are challenging the validity of the agreement. (It should be noted that a collective bargaining agreement is not a defense under Federal pay laws to a charge of unequal pay.)

The women are paid salaries, the men are not. The women are paid salaries for playing in the NWSL in addition to playing for the national team. They receive from the federation other benefits that the men don't -- severance, various types of insurance. The flip side to that is the men are paid salaries and other benefits by their clubs.

The pool of bonus money from which U.S. Soccer pays the women are paid for playing in the World Cup is much smaller than it pays the men because of the money it receives from FIFA is much smaller.

The women point to record television ratings for their games during 2015 Women's World Cup, though Fox Sports pays FIFA, not U.S. Soccer, for the rights. (U.S. Soccer also counters that ratings for men's games whose media rights they control are much higher than for women's games.)

Should the size of bonuses matter for anything other than performance? Should past performance and current expectations have any effect on bonus triggers?

The women are honing in on the revenues U.S. Soccer generates from men's and women's activities. In their filing, they claim they generated $20 million more revenue in 2015 than the U.S. men's team but were paid almost four times less. (The federation's position: revenues from men's games are nearly twice as those from women's games if you look at them, not over one year, but four- and eight-year cycles.)

The reaction:

Four players -- all but Rapinoe, who is rehabbed a knee injury -- went on NBC's Today Show Thursday morning to make their case.

"I think the timing is right," Lloyd told Matt Lauer. "I think we've proven our worth over the years. Just coming off a World Cup win, the pay disparity between the men and women is just too large. We want to continue to fight. The generation of players before us fought. And now it's our job to keep on fighting."

The players' rallying cry -- "Equal Play. Equal Pay" -- is something everyone can understand. It even drew support from Landon Donovan and Tim Howard, and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The federation's response:

In a statement, U.S. Soccer said it has 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 includes leading the successful campaign to introduce women's soccer in the Olympics in 1996, the inclusion of prize money for the Women's World Cup, and the establishment and support of the National Women's Soccer League, which is now in its fourth year of play."

In a conference call with reporters, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, a Columbia University economics professor, said a lot of factors go into determining the compensation U.S. Soccer wants to pay its players.

"Part of it is based on revenue, part of it is revenue that accrued based on international competitions, part of it is based on incentives, and the expected performance of the teams," he said. "All of that goes into it. Using the word 'deserve,' we think very highly of our women's national team. We're going to compensate them fairly, and we'll sit down and work through that with them when all of this settles down."

The end game:

U.S. Soccer and the women are now involved in two legal cases -- the suit in Federal court over the validity of the collective bargaining agreement and the EEOC complaint. A decision on the CBA should be known by late spring. The EEOC complaint could, if the parties jump through every hoop, drag on for years.

In the meantime, a new collective bargaining agreement will have to be reached, if not before the Rio Olympics -- as the women would like to gain maximum leverage -- but by early 2017. To wait longer would not necessarily adversely affect the national team -- its next official matches wouldn't be until 2018 -- but could spell doom for the NWSL.

Settling the EEOC complaint is another card the women have to play at the negotiating table.

32 comments about "What's behind U.S. women's equal pay suit".
  1. Gus Keri, April 1, 2016 at 7:12 a.m.

    The most ludicrous statement I have ever heard: "the women have outperformed the men on the field." This is not taking into consideration the difference in the level of competition between the two. The USWNT winning the WWC is like a club winning a third division league while the USMNT reaching the round of 16 in the MWC is like a club reaching play-off of first division league. How can any one say that in 2015, Rochester Rhinos (winners of USL) outperformed LA Galaxy or Toronto FC (losers of MLS paly-off)? I think the best solution to this problem is to open the financial books and calculate the net profits each of USWNT and the USMNT make and then calculate the payment accordingly. Transparency is the answer.

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, April 2, 2016 at 11:33 p.m.

    I would love to be the judge on a bench that hears an organization say that they don't have sufficient funds available to give women equal pay. As if financial health could excuse gender discrimination.

  3. John Nelson replied, April 13, 2016 at 7:45 p.m.

    Actually, the level of play at the Women's World Cup is closer to the U14/U15 age group on the boy's side. The hard truth is that none of the players on the women's national team would have a hope or a prayer of making the team if they had to compete with men for their positions. That being so, they cannot complain of unequal pay for "equal" work. The plaintiffs also cannot claim US Soccer is making money at their expense, as women's soccer remains a money-losing endeavor which survives only through subsidies from the men's side.

  4. Dan Eckert, April 1, 2016 at 7:40 a.m.

    Gus - the ONLY statement I agree with you on is, Financial "transparency is the answer."

  5. Ric Fonseca replied, April 1, 2016 at 2:09 p.m.

    Dan Eckert, I agree with you.

  6. J david Cepicka, April 1, 2016 at 9:13 a.m.

    Gus - your comparison is false. You wouldn't say the WNT winning the WC is equal to the Penn State Women who won NCAA. This is highest level of woman's soccer. US Soccer is richest federation in world. They continue to state all of their money is lumped together and they can't figure out where revenue comes from. This is ridiculous. It should also be pointed out US Soccer is supposed to be a non-profit organization.....

  7. Ric Fonseca replied, April 1, 2016 at 2:14 p.m.

    Mr. Cepicka, some years ago, while attending an NSCAA meeting, a representative of an English soccer company while making their preentation, and in answer to a simliar comment about n-f-p, (I am paraphrasing here) said, "folks, to say a group is a non-for-profit, face it, in order to be a n-f-p group, you must make some profit...") If one wants to see US Soccer's tax filings, since it is a public n-f-p corporation, all you have to do is to go to the US gov IRS site and follow the prompts. The figures are staggering!

  8. Robert Robertson, April 1, 2016 at 9:39 a.m.

    Support US Women 100%. Pay difference would have even greater if they had not won World Cup and Olympics since bonus money is involved. Equal Pay now!

  9. robert charles, April 1, 2016 at 9:48 a.m.

    Another misstep...Gus does have right idea, he said it wrong. USW have about 5 other competitive teams, all from nations much smaller than US, and tiny in terms of their youth pool. They had huge headstart on other countries, have very little competition, and still are falling back fast, although WC 15 performance was great.

    But that argument is irrelevant -- the money they want has to come from somewhere; equity say they should get the same % of funds generated by their activity as the men. Otherwise Women's soccer should be trying to DIFFERENTIATE itself from men's -- it cannot win arguments 'we are just as good'. The game should be shorter, more focused on technique and teamwork instead of emulation of men's game (which has resulted in tragic shameful epidemic of ACLs, concussions for 000s of teen girls). Then a pro league they try to sell to these teens might actually have a chance.

  10. Lou vulovich, April 1, 2016 at 10:43 a.m.

    This is the only situation in female to male sports, where I say the woman deserve equal pay or better. The woman have been as instrumental and every bit as popular in the growth of soccer as the men.

  11. Sara P, April 1, 2016 at 11:41 a.m.

    It's not as every bit as popular! Look at the stats in the other article that was posted - the men's game is an order magnitude more popular in viewership and game attendance. The demographics for the men's game spans genders, economic, nationalities. The demographics for the women's game is basically girls ages 8-14 who play soccer and their parents. You can't ignore the economics of the sport when looking at what the players should earn.

  12. Chris J, April 1, 2016 at 11:49 a.m.

    Outperformed the men in every way? Men get paid to just show up? The arrogance of the women's team is astounding. Yes, props for being the best in the world, truly. But have you watched any concacaf qualifying for the women? There are ECNL teams that could win most of those games. The US has had a lead in numbers and talent for years, and should be expected to compete for championships on the women's side for years to come because of that. The men's competitive landscape is completely different where there are multi-billion dollar leagues and organizations developing talent to compete for world cups. Given the respective competitive landscapes and economics, the men reaching the final 16 in a world cup is a much more impressive accomplishment that the women winning a world cup. C'mon girls, don't be greedy, you have a pretty good deal going already.

  13. Bryan Kempf, April 1, 2016 at 12:42 p.m.

    A couple thoughts...

    "The numbers" obviously don't matter, because a loss in the round of sixteen and this never happens. It's based on winning. Also, the numbers would be pathetic had they lost early.

    If both teams were professional clubs, what type of value would Forbes magazine put on each club?

    The Women's World Cup is nothing compared to the Men's World Cup. One is the biggest sporting event in the world. The other can't even get high ranking FIFA officials to attend.

    Last... I read an article on bbc.com (Women's World Cup: Who is the best-paid women's footballer? By Alistair Magowan) during the WWC about pay in women's soccer, that showed a huge gap between female English players and female American players. It claimed that Alex Morgan makes 180k from US soccer alone. Where top English players make a total of 65k.(Manchester City and England captain Steph Houghton)

  14. Allan Lindh, April 1, 2016 at 12:47 p.m.

    So many articles, so many comments, not one word about Title IX. Of course US women are the best, because US girls know they will have a fair chance when they play college soccer. Time for some equity at the National Team level.

  15. John Soares, April 1, 2016 at 1:20 p.m.

    WOW!!! Judging by some of these comments a few of you should run for a position in FIFA. You would fit right in:) The issue is in and within USA and yet most of you use world numbers to "justify" your point. REALLY; the top paid USA woman makes more than the lowest paid M.City player, that should prove something...but what? IN the USA the women do in fact out perform the men "apples to apples". Their record worldwide both at WC and Olympics has not been matched (not even close) by any country men or women, in a similar time frame. Yet their take (team) for winning the WC was 10% of Germany. Yes much of their qualifying games are against weak CONCACAF teams as are the men's... Can you say Guatemala!? At least they blow them out! The only surprise here is that non have repeated Blatter's comment about wearing "shorter shorts" or his side kick suggesting more makeup.
    But why should anyone be surprised, look at the fiasco last week regarding tennis and the "Women should get down on their knees...." comment from a VP no less. Good luck explaining your position to your wives and daughters:)

  16. Lou vulovich, April 1, 2016 at 1:42 p.m.

    Again, I would say this is the only situation with regards to male/female professional sports where the
    woman deserve equal pay, for multiple reasons. For the last 25 years the woman's game of soccer has done as much for soccer in the US as the mens has or more.
    The interest and fan turnout is always high.
    Where I disagree with them is to sue your employer, I think is a mistake. I believe to make their point all the girls should have refused to play until they received equal pay. Otherwise this smells of lawyers and money, more than principal and fair pay.

  17. Sara P, April 1, 2016 at 1:46 p.m.

    John, I'm not some misogynistic jerk. My wife had her college paid for with soccer, and I'm a fan of the game. My point is that it's about the economics. Are you seriously trying to equate what the women should get from FIFA for winning the WC and what Germany received from FIFA for winning? It's a function of the revenue generated by the event/sport and the women's game is a fraction of what is generated on the men's side. I'm not even sure if all the revenue generated from the women's WC would have paid Germany's bonus.

  18. Sam Molinet replied, April 4, 2016 at 6:47 p.m.

    The Mannshaft got paid $35M for winning in 2014. That's 6% of a pot of $576M. The USWNT got paid $2M from a $15M pot in 2015. That's 13%.

  19. schultz rockne, April 1, 2016 at 3:56 p.m.

    What's 'behind' the women's suit? Ummm...how about...equality?! Oooh, the 'women' must be cooking up something suspicious that'll bring us boys down, eh? Nice subtle 'backheel,' SA!
    It's more of a revelation than a surprise to hear (still to this day, in 2016!)--mostly men in this argument--invoke such terms as 'markets,' 'finances,' and other vague abstractions of proclaimed parity when discussing equal compensation (heard it in the gym locker room--again--this morning). It shouldn't make a difference whether the 'career' is pro sports, an office job, or in the home...if you have mothers, daughters, girlfriends, or wives, it would seem that one would want (insist? demand!?) that the women in our lives be considered on equal ground as us. Bottom line. Pay is just one part of the larger issue. Along the way, we men can challenge and address our damaged upbringings or whatever current social fallacies that help uphold sexist and subordinating (of women) ideologies. Or not.

  20. Kent James, April 1, 2016 at 4:50 p.m.

    The women think they're better than the men? Let 'em play, and the winning team gets higher pay. (:-)). Yes, everyone is right that the competition on the men's side is more difficult, but that argument is really not germane; it's not the US women's fault that there is not more competition for them. And it's not like there is NO competition; the top teams on the women's side are fairly equal. The women have succeeded in the contests in which they entered, and undeniably have done much better than the men. If salaries are tied to revenues on the men's side, then it is fair to have the women make a the same % of the revenues as men, but if not, they should get the same pay as men (bonuses for winning should be the same, e.g.). To be fair to the USSF, because the women's professional league is relatively undeveloped, the USSF has given the players some benefits normally provided by the clubs, but certainly their costs can be calculated and deducted from the equal pay. The women are generally right (and their timing is excellent).

  21. Newman W Stemple, April 1, 2016 at 4:53 p.m.

    WHAT IF?? What if there were only one CBA for US Soccer National Team players. If US Soccer pays Hope Solo a salary of $50,000, then they should pay Tim Howard a salary of $59,000. Then if Hope's NWSL team pays her an additional fee, fine. If Tim Howard's MLS team pays him an additional fee, fine. US Soccer should then add up all income generated by the USWNT, subtract all associated expenses and give a bonus to all the players based upon the difference. Bonuses for the USMNT players could be determined in the same manner.

  22. Diego Escalera, April 1, 2016 at 5:02 p.m.

    Let's give the exact same terms to the women's side that the men get and watch NWSL burn and crash, cease compensating pregnant players, get rid of medical benefits. Frankly, I think some of the wmt vets are way too ensconced in the system. Play them for a few friendlies if they don't perform they're out! That's the MNT style.

    Or....we realize that the women's situation is completely different from the men's.

  23. R2 Dad, April 1, 2016 at 5:20 p.m.

    Wait...some players get paid to "win" Friendlies? I thought the whole point of Friendlies was to try out new players/formations/combinations of players--the score is secondary. So why get compensated differently for winning than losing or drawing?

  24. Raymond Weigand replied, April 1, 2016 at 5:30 p.m.


  25. Raymond Weigand, April 1, 2016 at 5:28 p.m.

    Newman - you sound like you already know the answer to your "what if". NWSL and MLS should be separate from the National team, of course ... they are not. "Associated Expenses" ... that's a good one ... and the creative accountants will have plenty of paper to demonstrate how their was little money left to distribute. Probably the USSF decision makers should start by paying themselves less and the players more - then these P.R. nightmares will not put them at risk of further embarrassing themselves and the sport. The USSF really have inadvertently projected themselves as arrogant and ignorant.

  26. Gus Keri, April 1, 2016 at 5:55 p.m.

    "Equal work, equal pay" is good for almost most professions like teachers, doctors, army officers, .. you name it; But it doesn't work in professional soccer. Revenues is the dictating factor in payment. You don't pay equal money to two professional teams like Barcelona and Getafe, for example. You pay according the revenue each team generates. The same thing for USMNT and USWNT. Pay according to the revenue (minus expenditure) each team generates. It makes more sense.

  27. uffe gustafsson, April 1, 2016 at 8:43 p.m.

    One thing none of you brought to the table of discussion. The youth players?
    Can some one tell me the how many girls play soccer compared to boys?
    I think we all be surprised to see way many girls play this sport. And I think you be remiss to not see what women's national team have done to make that a reality.
    Who really pay for us soccer if not for all the youth clubs around the country.
    Yes you can bring up Income from TV that men bring in more money.
    I think they women have point and this bshit of let women play the men is absurd and Stone Age thinking.
    How about a modern thinking, who is bringing in more youth to our sport? I say there is no contest on that one.
    Is that not the goal for all of us.

  28. uffe gustafsson, April 1, 2016 at 8:56 p.m.

    One last comment.
    On equality, remember reading of Japan's national teams. Men's team flying first class to their games and women flying coach.
    How absurd is that, the Japanese women's team is like our women's team far and above the more successful teams.
    How about that for equality.
    Might be small thing but it reak of discrimination.

  29. uffe gustafsson, April 1, 2016 at 11:05 p.m.

    And not to beat a dead horse.
    But honestly who are the faces of USA soccer.
    You think any of the men's players will be requgnize on the street compared to the women players, not a chance, hope solo, rapino or the most reqognize woman Abby wombach add on Alex Morgan and a few others.
    They are the faces of US soccer.
    Give me some men's players that non soccer people would know. None!
    But I'm sure those people would requgnize the women.

  30. Bob Ashpole, April 2, 2016 at 11:27 p.m.

    USSF has male and female players. It is illegal to discriminate based on gender. USSF also employs coaches. I wonder if there is a similar disparity in their pay? That would put an interesting spin on the case.

  31. Andy Cap, April 3, 2016 at 12:28 p.m.

    Not saying the compensation packages must be the same for both teams.
    However, the difference is way to big.
    How the teams are treated when called in
    travel,hotel,meals etc. The difference is insulting to the women. To say the level of competition the women face is a factor is dishonest at best.

    If this is a result driven business
    then their is no excuse for the USWNT coaches and players to be paid so much less than the mediocre USMNT

  32. ROBERT BOND, April 4, 2016 at 4:11 p.m.

    male supermodels should get the same pay........women at Wimbleton get the same pay for playing less........

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