Judge tosses out equal pay discrimination claims made by Women’s soccer
The United States Women's National Team poses for a team photo before a SheBelieves Cup women's soccer match against Japan, March 11, 2020 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. | Jeffrey McWhorter / AP

On International Workers’ Day, May 1, a federal judge quietly tossed out part of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s pay discrimination lawsuit—the unequal pay argument—while allowing their allegations of discriminatory working conditions to proceed to trial.

It was a shocking judgment and a loss for players.

Led by Alex Morgan, players filed their lawsuit in March 2019, arguing they’d not been paid equally and saying the federation violated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Players further alleged they hadn’t been paid equally under their collective bargaining agreement compared to what the Men’s National Team got under their union contract. Their remedy called for over $66 million in damages.

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner, in his 32-parge decision, granted in part a motion for partial summary judgment by the soccer federation by dismissing the Equal Pay Act allegations, leaving only the Civil Rights Act claims intact.

Klausner shifted blame for the unequal pay structure from the federation to the players’ union; finding merit in the federation’s “blame your union” legal argument.

“The history of negotiations between the parties demonstrates that the WNT rejected an offer to be paid under the same pay-to-play structure as the MNT, and the WNT was willing to forgo higher bonuses for benefits, such as greater base compensation and the guarantee of a higher number of contracted players,” wrote Klausner.

“Accordingly, plaintiffs cannot now retroactively deem their CBA worse than the MNT CBA by reference to what they would have made had they been paid under the MNT’s pay-to-play terms structure when they themselves rejected such a structure.”

In comparing the women’s and men’s teams’ pay structures, he said that under the women’s CBA players are paid regardless of whether they take the field, whereas men’s team players are only paid if they are called up into camp to play and then take part in a match.

On that point, Klausner found the women’s team’s arguments “were insufficient to establish a genuine (pay disparity) dispute.”

Klausner did find merit in the claims that the soccer federation discriminated in its use of charter aircraft, money spent on commercial airfare, hotel accommodations, medical, and training support services. A trial for those claims is scheduled June 16 in Los Angeles federal court.

Players plan to file a review in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Klausner’s decision, which could delay the trial until 2021 or later.

“We are shocked and disappointed with today’s decision, but we will not give up our hard work for equal pay, “said Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the women’s players, in a statement. “We are confident in our case and steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that girls and women who play this sport will not be valued as lesser just because of their gender.”

Acting soccer federation president Cindy Parlow Cone, who replaced Carol Cordiero after a summary judgment motion included critical sexist statements against the women’s players forced his resignation, said she hopes to settle the suit before trial starts.

Despite the massive setback, players do not seem too discouraged.

“We will never stop fighting for EQUALITY,” tweeted Megan Rapinoe.

And women’s team defender Becky Sauerbrunn wrote: “If you know this team at all you know we have a lot of fight left in us. We knew this wasn’t going to be easy, change never is.”

So, the fight continues.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.