The year’s greatest victory in women’s soccer may not be won with the final whistle of the World Cup Final in Lyon, but in a Los Angeles courtroom.
Exactly two decades after Brandi Chastain’s iconic celebration, in which she threw off her shirt after scoring the winning penalty kick at the 1999 World Cup Final, the United States Women’s National Team is again at the center of the sport’s fight for gender equality.
Twenty-eight USWNT players have filed a class action lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, the body that governs and employs the men’s and women’s teams.
The 28 players are arguing the federation is currently working in violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on race, gender or religion, among other factors.
The suit claims the USSF “discriminates against Plaintiffs ... by paying them less than members of the Men’s National Team for substantially equal work.”
The suit claims the federation denies the USWNT equal working conditions, equal support and equal promotion of their games.
The phrase being associated with the suit is “equal pay for equal work,” but that does not acknowledge the heart of what the 28 plaintiffs claim. They are suing for equal investment for, what has often been, more work.
The suit emphasizes that, due to the success of the team, the USWNT is often playing, practicing and travelling more than their male counterparts. From 2015 to 2018, the women’s team played nineteen more matches than the men. And, the USWNT is currently the defending World Cup champion; the men’s team failed to qualify for the last tournament.
The suit cites data from that time period, namely the 2016 fiscal year. The USSF budgeted for a collective loss of about $430,000 from both national teams, but after performances from the USWNT, it had to revise the projection to a $17.7 million profit.
The players are also awarded bonuses based on their results. The men receive bonuses every game, and the bonuses are stratified depending on the opposing team’s FIFA ranking. The women receive bonuses only for defeating top-10 ranked teams. If each team won 20 games in a year, the women would earn a $4,950 per game while the men would average about $13,200, meaning they earn 38 cents to the men’s dollar.
The suit is challenging the ways players are paid, but it also takes issue with the players working conditions.
In domestic matches from 2014-2017, the USWNT played 21% of its domestic games on artificial grass — which can lead to more injuries, and, more practically, forces players to change the fundamental elements of how they play. The men played 2% of their domestic games on artificial grass.
The suit also calls out the federation’s under-marketing, discriminatory ticket pricing and unwillingness to charter flights for the women’s team.
The court date has not yet been set, but if the court rules in favor of the 28 players, the USSF may establish one of the world’s most progressive national team pay structures. A legal victory for the USWNT would undoubtedly surpass any sporting victory achieved this summer.
Chastain’s celebration caused America to reassess its view of female athletes. David Letterman referred to the team as “babe city,” and a Washington Post article pointed out some people attributed their popularity to their “tomboyish sexiness.”
This sort of coverage seems archaic by today’s standards, but the root of the problem has yet to change. Whether with intention or reckless indifference, the USWNT has been treated as a novelty; a win in Lyon will not change that. A win in Los Angeles could.