U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Asks Ninth Circuit to Reinstate Equal Pay Claim

On July 23, 2021, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit to revive their unequal pay claim against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) that was dismissed by a California federal judge in May 2020.

The case – Alex Morgan, et al v. United States Soccer Federation – was brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act. The women soccer players claimed that they had been discriminated against based on their gender and asked for $67 million in damages. 

California judge R. Gary Klausner awarded summary judgment to the USSF after finding that the compensation for the USWNT players was slightly higher than the men’s team based on per-game earnings from 2015-2019. In addition, the judge said the players could not challenge the bonus rates they had agreed to in collective bargaining.

In the appeal to the Ninth Circuit, the players argued that the judge did not properly take into account the lower bonuses the women’s team received for winning games. The USWNT said that the only reason their pay was slightly more than the men’s team during that time period was because they won 30% more games than the men’s team.

“In effect, the court held that pay is equal if a woman can obtain the same amount of money as a man by working more and performing better. That is not the law,” the USWNT said in the appeal. “Under the court’s approach, the women had to be the best in the world to achieve the same per-game pay as the much less successful men. That is not an equal rate of pay.”

The appeal further argued that the court should have focused on total compensation rather than the comparative rates of pay between the men’s and women’s teams as well as taken into account the higher winning percentage for the women’s team. The USWNT also contends that the court ignored expert witness evidence that a jury should have been able to weigh in on, citing one expert’s finding that the women’s team would have earned $64 million more if their bonus structure was the same as the men’s team.

In April 2021, the USWNT reached a settlement with USSF over unequal travel accommodations and working conditions. The deal requires the USSF to provide the women’s and the men’s soccer teams with comparable travel budgets, an equal number of charter flights, and the same support staff, including dedicated physicians for each team.

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