U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Missed Two Free Penalty Kicks to Avoid the Current Pay Gap

Members of the U.S. women’s soccer team, including Megan Rapinoe, rear left, and Alex Morgan, right foreground, stand on a float before being honored with a ticker tape parade along the Canyon of Heroes in New York, Wednesday, July 10, 2019. The U.S. national team beat the Netherlands 2-0 to capture a record fourth Women’s World Cup title. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)The debate on equal pay for the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team is more complicated than it seems. Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP employment lawyers Todd Wulffson and Alessandra Whipple just penned a thoughtful opinion piece for the Orange County Register and other Southern California News Group publications, asserting that the Women’s World Cup champs missed two free kicks to avoid the current pay gap.

 

Members of the U.S. women’s soccer team on a float before being honored with a ticker tape parade NYC on 7/10/19.  (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

"There is no question that the members of United States Women’s National Soccer Team (“USWNT”) are collectively a force to be reckoned with, having just won their fourth World Cup Championship.  Celebrations of their victory, however, have become a chant of “USA – Equal Pay,” instead of just “USA.”

Their victory has been overshadowed by the belief that the women are paid less than their male counterparts, and that it must be the result of sexism and the greedy – mostly male – owners of the teams.  That, however, is just a politically expedient excuse.  If one truly wants something to blame for the pay gap in women’s soccer, start with the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) (1) negotiated by the (mostly female) union representatives chosen by the team members, and (2) that the women all ratified.

In the world of professional sports, CBA’s govern the employment relationship between a league’s players and the league’s owners.  Included in a CBA are terms such as, salary minimums (and maximums as in the case of the National Women’s Soccer League), performance bonuses, restrictions on player mobility, ownership over likenesses and marketing rights, maternity/paternity and medical leave, player conduct and revenue and/or profit sharing. In recent years, various sport leagues have seen disputes erupt between player associations and league owners regarding player autonomy, and acrimonious debates over revenue and profit sharing.

The members of the USWNT have recently filed a class action lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, Inc., alleging gender disparity regarding revenue sharing, performance bonuses, salary caps, likeness ownership, quality of medical care, training facilities and pitch conditions.

The lawsuit is currently headed toward mediation, but is it appropriate simply to claim “sexism” regarding a document ratified by the team members back when they were not nearly as famous as they are today?

In 2017, the USWNT negotiated and ratified their new CBA, which was lauded as a momentous step forward for the egalitarian-driven players.  The team members did not want to be like the men, who are strictly pay-for-play, and only get paid bonuses for winning. The men do not receive a salary or benefits like health insurance or severance pay. The women’s team wanted the security of a guaranteed salary even for players who were on the roster but didn’t play.

Based on these differences, comparing earnings between male and female national team players is complicated, and a one-to-one comparison is impossible, but what is true is that despite all the chanting at the rallies, this year, the members of the women’s team will earn more than members of the men’s team — because of the men’s team’s relative failure."

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