U.S. Women's Soccer Team Members File Wage Discrimination Complaint

Mar 31, 2016
Originally published on April 1, 2016 1:48 pm
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Five of the best-known members of the U.S. women's soccer team have filed a federal complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation. They accuse it of wage discrimination. Female soccer players, the complaint says, earn a fraction of what male players make and the women have had far more success on the field. NPR's Nathan Rott reports.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: All right, let's start with two approximate numbers. The first is 40 percent. That's what a women's soccer player that makes a World Cup team should expect to earn compared to a male counterpart, about 40 percent of what he makes according to the complaint that was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The second number also listed in that complaint is 20 million, as in $20 million, which is how much more money in revenue the women's team generated last year than the men's. It's numbers like that and the discrepancy between them that compelled the five U.S. women's national soccer team players to file a federal wage discrimination complaint. Here's the team's co-captain Carli Lloyd in an interview with her teammates on NBC's "Today."

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CARLI LLOYD: The pay disparity between the men and women is just too large.

ROTT: The players are being represented by prominent sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler. He represented NFL star quarterback Tom Brady during the Deflategate inquiry and has worked on a number of other cases. He told NPR in an email that they believe they have a very strong case of blatant gender discrimination and that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will agree. Heidi Hartmann agrees. She's president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research. And she says the difference in pay between male soccer players and female is egregious.

HEIDI HARTMANN: We're not talking about comparing ice skaters to football players. We're talking about comparing soccer players to soccer players.

ROTT: But Hartmann says it's not necessarily surprising. She says federal wage data shows that there's about a 21 percent gap between men's and women's pay in the U.S. overall. And the claim that men's soccer players get everything from bigger bonuses to higher per diem than women on international trips is in line with other national trends too.

HARTMANN: This is not uncommon in the rest of the business world. That - it just happens that men will get more of these bonuses and awards than women.

ROTT: Hartmann says she's hopeful that the atttention brought to the issue by a group as popular as the U.S. women's soccer team will help raise awareness. And it's hard to argue with that popularity.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) USA, USA, USA.

ROTT: It wasn't all that long ago that the U.S. women's soccer team was doing their victory lap around the country in front of thousands of fans at rallies like this one in Downtown Los Angeles.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: World Cup champions.

(APPLAUSE)

ROTT: When the U.S. women won their third World Cup last year, the final became the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history, men or women. But it's fair to say that the relationship between U.S. soccer and the women's team is already strained. U.S. soccer sued the women's national team players' union last month over a contract dispute over their collective bargaining agreement.

In a statement regarding this issue, U.S. soccer says its efforts to be advocates for women's soccer are unwavering and it says it's committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that addresses compensation with the Women's National Team's Players Association at the end of this year. In a tweet responding to that statement, U.S. soccer co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn says, quote, "where in the statement do they address or even attempt to refute the pay discrepancy?" She ends it with the hashtag Equal Play Equal Pay. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.