US women's football team players sue over gender discrimination

Top women’s football players sue the US Soccer Federation, claiming the organisation pays them less than male players.

    All players for the US women's national football team have filed a federal gender discrimination lawsuit seeking pay equal to that of their male counterparts.

    The action comes just three months before the team goes off to defend its title at the Women's World Cup.

    The class-action lawsuit was filed on Friday in federal court in Los Angeles under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. It alleges gender-based discrimination by the US Soccer Federation (USSF).

    The players say they have been subject to ongoing "institutionalised gender discrimination", including unequal pay, training, travel and playing conditions, despite having the same job responsibilities as players on the men's national team. 

    The 28 members of the current national team player pool joined in the lawsuit.

    The US Women's National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) was not a party to the lawsuit, but in a statement said it "supports the plaintiffs' goal of eliminating gender-based discrimination by USSF". 

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    The US Soccer Federation didn't have an immediate comment for the Associated Press news agency.

    The players are seeking equal pay and treatment, in addition to damages including back pay. The complaint was filed on International Women's Day.

    'We deserved to be paid equally'

    In a prepared statement, football player Alex Morgan said players needed to fight for gender equality.

    "Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that," Morgan said in the statement. 

    "We believe that fighting for gender equality in sports is a part of that responsibility. As players, we deserved to be paid equally for our work, regardless of our gender." 

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    US co-captain Carli Lloyd said; "In light of our team's unparalleled success on the field, it's a shame that we still are fighting for treatment that reflects our achievements and contributions to the sport."

    When the women's team clinched their most recent World Cup title in 2015, it was the most watched football game in American TV history with an audience of approximately 23 million viewers.

    Pushing for equal pay

    This is not the first time the players have sought equitable compensation and conditions.

    A group of players filed a complaint in 2016 with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that alleged wage discrimination by the federation. 

    The players maintained that the men's team players earned far more than they did, in many cases despite comparable work.

    The lawsuit effectively ends that EEOC complaint, brought by Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd and former goalkeeper Hope Solo.

    The team took the fight into contract negotiations and struck a collective bargaining agreement in 2017 that runs through 2021.

    The players received raises in base pay and bonuses as well as better provisions for travel and accommodations, including increased per diems. It also gave the players some control of certain licensing and marketing rights. 

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    "This lawsuit is an effort by the plaintiffs to address those serious issues through the exercise of their individual rights. For its part, the USWNTPA will continue to seek improvements in pay and working conditions through the labour-management and collective bargaining processes," the players' union said.

    The USSF has in the past maintained that much of the pay disparity between the men's and women's teams resulted from separate labour agreements.

    In 2017, the US women's national hockey team threatened to boycott that year's world championship but returned to the ice after settling a dispute with USA Hockey over wages and better benefits in line with their male counterparts.

    SOURCE: News agencies