Entertainment & Sports Law

Federal judge tosses unequal pay claims by US women’s soccer team, allows other claims

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A federal judge in Los Angeles tossed pay-bias claims Friday by the U.S. women’s soccer team, finding that the women actually earned more on an average per-game basis than men.

The New York Times termed the ruling a “crushing defeat,” while the Washington Post called it a “stunning defeat.” Courthouse News Service also has coverage of the May 1 opinion.

The women plan to appeal.

The suit survives on working condition claims. U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner allowed a claim based on a disparity in spending on charter flights. He also refused to toss allegations of unequal spending on hotels and differing support services because the U.S. Soccer Federation had not sought the dismissal in its motion for summary judgment.

The women’s suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation had alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act. The case was certified as a class action in November 2019.

The women said team members receive lower bonuses than men, and the women would have received more money if they were paid under the same method as men.

But the women were paid more than the men per game and on a cumulative basis during the period in question, Klausner said. The women played 111 games and made $24.5 million overall, averaging $220,747 per game. The men played 87 total games and made $18.5 million overall, averaging $212,639 per game.

Even though women’s bonuses were lower, they received other benefits under their collective bargaining agreement that did not apply to men. The women received guaranteed annual salaries, bonus pay and other fringe benefits. The men, on the other hand, were paid under a pay-to-play model, which doesn’t pay players unless they participate in a training camp or make a particular roster.

And although the women would have been paid more if they had been operating under the men’s contract, the opposite was also true; the men would have been paid more if they had been operating under the women’s contract, Klausner said.

The history of collective bargaining negotiations shows that the women rejected an offer to be paid under the same pay-to-play structure as the men, and that the women were willing to be paid higher bonuses for other benefits, such as greater base compensation and a guarantee for a higher number of contracted players, Klausner said.

The women can’t retroactively deem their collective bargaining agreement to be worse than the men’s by reference to what they would have made under a structure that they rejected, Klausner said.

The case is Morgan v. U.S. Soccer Federation.

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