Under Pressure: U.S. Women’s National Team Brings Worldwide Attention to Gender-Based Pay Inequality
Updated: Jan 9
Colorado recently made headway in the fight for pay equality when Governor Jared Polis signed the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act into law this past May, though the law will not take effect until 2021. Although this is a win in the fight for pay equality (that should be celebrated), the issue is much more widespread. With the world watching, after inspiring fans all over the world by winning their second straight title as World Cup Champions, the U.S. Women’s National Team (WNT) used this opportunity to shine the spotlight on pay inequality.
Before the Women’s World Cup commenced, the WNT players sued the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for gender-based pay-discrimination. The complaint alleged that USSF violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The WNT players also alleged in their complaint that USSF has denied players “equal playing, training and travel conditions and promotes [the women’s] games less compared with the men’s soccer team.”
The WNT players’ fight for equal pay began years ago when Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Becky Sauerbrunn filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After a three-year investigation into the players’ claims, the EEOC gave the go ahead to sue. The current twenty-eight players brought suit on International Women’s Day in March of this year. In June, the WNT players and USSF agreed to enter into mediation after the World Cup.
According to the allegations in the complaint, a top-tier women’s soccer player could earn as little as thirty-eight percent of what a top-tier men’s soccer player makes in a year. That amounts to a $164,320 gap. The gap regarding bonuses is even more alarming. In 2014, USSF paid the men’s team $5.375 million in bonuses after they were eliminated in round sixteen of the World Cup, while the women were only paid $1.725 million after bringing home the title in 2015.
Further, while the women are paid less than the men despite performing similar job duties, the players argue that they outperform the men by earning more profit for USSF at times, playing more games, winning more games, winning more championships, and garnering higher television ratings. As support, they note that the WNT has four World Cup titles, four Olympic gold medals, has ranked number one in the world for ten of the last eleven years, and the team’s 2015 World Cup title game was the most-watched soccer game in American television history at the time. And, because of the team’s success, the women spend more time in training camps and playing games than the men.
The WNT players have made it clear that they want to see “institutionalized gender discrimination” change. They want to inspire and be the voice for women seeking equality in other occupations, in addition to making a difference for future female soccer players. Their fight for pay equality has not gone unnoticed.
Following the WNT’s championship victory at the Women’s World Cup in France, chants of “equal pay” filled the stadium and the streets of New York City during the team’s victory parade days later. Widespread support from political leaders, athletes, and entertainers has since been surging across the nation.
For example, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin took a strong stance on the issue by introducing a bill that would withhold federal funding for the Men’s World Cup, which is set to take place in the United States in 2026, until both the men’s and women’s national teams receive equal pay. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an equal pay bill into law at the WNT players’ victory parade. And despite the USSF’s pre-World Cup stance that the payment structure is based on differences in the men’s and women’s teams collective bargaining agreements and differences in revenue generation between the two teams, USSF President, Carlos Cordeiro, expressed support at the victory parade.
As the crowd chanted, “Equal pay!” and “Pay them!”, Cordeiro reassured fans by stating, “Today, on behalf of all of us at U.S. Soccer, I want to say we hear you, we believe in you, and we are committed to doing right by you.” He continued, “We believe at U.S. Soccer that all female
athletes deserve fair and equitable pay, and together, I believe we can get this done, because as this team has taught us, being the greatest isn’t just about how you play on the field, it’s about what you stand for off the field. It’s about who we are a sport and a country.”
After some blow back from the crowd, WNT Co-Captain, Megan Rapinoe, “endorse[d]” Cordeiro, expressing that she thinks “he’s on the right side of things,” and “he’s going to make things right.” Rapinoe, along with the other WNT players, has shown both on and off the pitch, that she is a formidable opponent and fights to win.
At the moment, the future for pay equality looks hopeful. And thanks to the WNT, the world is watching.
Nicole Jones, Esq. is currently an Appellate Law Clerk for the Honorable Diana L. Terry at the Colorado Court of Appeals. She is the Editor of the “Tales from the Trenches” column and a member of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association Publications Committee. Any views or opinions reflected in this publication do not reflect the position of the Colorado Court of Appeals or the Colorado Judicial Department.