The U.S. women’s soccer team has been paid less on a per-game basis than the U.S. men’s soccer team and suffered from inferior working conditions, said a federal judge who is presiding over the women’s ongoing pay-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The remarks Friday by Judge R. Gary Klausner, of the Central District of California, came in his 15-page decision granting class-action status to the high-profile case brought by the U.S. women’s team. The ruling means that the original case involving 28 players could expand to include a few dozen more.
The ruling is procedural and doesn’t decide the merits of the case, but it provides a window into the judge’s thinking. After mediation talks between the sides broke down in August, the judge set a trial date of May 5, 2020. If the U.S. women qualify for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics, as expected, they will begin play in July.
“It’s very energizing,” U.S. women’s team veteran Megan Rapinoe said of the judge’s ruling. “It’s almost a validation of everything that we’re seeing. I think it’s a really positive step forward in this fight.”
A U.S. Soccer spokesman didn’t immediately comment.
The U.S. women filed suit March 8 and the case took on a global profile as the team dominated the World Cup in France, winning it in July. After the final against the Netherlands, fans chanted “Equal pay!” and have continued chanting it at subsequent U.S. women’s games.
The U.S. women have won four World Cups, including the past two. The U.S. men haven’t won a World Cup and failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament. U.S. Soccer has said that any pay differences between the women’s and men’s teams are due to their separate collective-bargaining agreements and aren’t based on gender.
In his ruling, Mr. Klausner pushed back on U.S. Soccer’s argument that the U.S. women’s players didn’t suffer any legal injury because they made more money than the highest-paid men’s national-team players. In their suit, the women allege U.S. Soccer has violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act.
He wrote that U.S. Soccer “presupposes that there can be no discrimination under either Title VII or the EPA where a female employee’s total annual compensation exceeds that of similarly-situated males, regardless of whether the female employee receives a lower rate of pay than her male comparators. But Defendant cites no case law to support this premise.”
The judge added, “Further, courts interpreting the EPA and (to a lesser extent) Title VII have explicitly rejected this argument—for good reason. To hold otherwise would yield an ‘absurd result,’ as this would mean not only that ‘an employer who pays a woman $10 per hour and a man $20 per hour would not violate the EPA…as long as the woman negated the obvious disparity by working twice as many hours[,]’ but also that a woman in this scenario would not even have standing to challenge the complained-of practice in the first place. Congress simply could not have intended such a result.”
U.S. Soccer has released figures it says show it paid the U.S. women’s team more than the men’s team in recent years, though it didn’t break down the women’s pay per game.
Mr. Klausner also weighed in on the U.S. women’s allegations that U.S. Soccer subjects the team to matches on inferior surfaces more often than it does the men’s team, provides the women with fewer charter flights, allocates fewer resources for marketing and sets lower prices for tickets to women’s games.
“The failure to provide the [Women’s National Team] with equal working conditions is a real (not abstract) injury which affects each Plaintiff in a personal and individual way,” Mr. Klausner wrote. “Plaintiffs also have offered sufficient proof of this injury. Indeed, Plaintiffs have submitted declarations establishing that WNT players were subject to discriminatory working conditions.”