Unequal Pay for More Than Equal Play?

Following the recent pay gap controversy inside women’s professional tennis, the New York Times reports that five star players from the US women’s national soccer team have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that their counterparts on the men’s national team are paid significantly more, despite the fact that the women’s team has performed significantly better. The team won their third World Cup last year, a gold medal in the last Olympics, and have become the standard bearer for soccer in the US, regularly drawing superior crowds and television ratings.

The women, who say they are filing on behalf of their teammates, have asked the commission to investigate the US Soccer Federation, which they report has paid them as little as 40 percent of what men’s team players make, and also shortchanged them on bonuses, appearance fees, and per diems:

The players involved in the complaint are among the most prominent and decorated female athletes in the world: the co-captains Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn, forward Alex Morgan, midfielder Megan Rapinoe and goalkeeper Hope Solo. …

“We have been quite patient over the years with the belief that the federation would do the right thing and compensate us fairly,” Lloyd, the most valuable player of last year’s Women’s World Cup, said in a statement released by the players and [their lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler.]

Solo was more blunt in the statement, directly comparing the women’s achievements with those of the men’s national team.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Solo said. “We are the best in the world, have three World Cup championships, four Olympic championships, and the U.S.M.N.T. get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships.”

As the Times notes, the federation will likely respond by pointing to the fact that even though the women are salaried employees, their pay is collectively bargained, by which “the players agreed to all issues, including compensation and working conditions like whether the team must play on artificial turf or not.” In addition, a new contract is currently being negotiated between the players’ union and the federation, which receives higher payouts from FIFA for participation in the men’s World Cup than for the women’s tournament.

Regardless, the women bring in more money than the men do domestically, and their recent World Cup Final set a record for television viewership, drawing more US viewers than any other soccer game—men’s or women’s—in American history. And as far as job requirements go, they could not be more equal, yet as ESPN breaks down, the pay disparity is enormous:

Among the numbers cited in the EEOC filing are that the women would earn $99,000 each if they won 20 friendlies, the minimum number they are required to play in a year. But the men would likely earn $263,320 each for the same feat, and would get $100,000 even if they lost all 20 games. Additionally, the women get paid nothing for playing more than 20 games, while the men get between $5,000 and $17,625 for each game played beyond 20. …

Also greatly disparate, according to the figures, is the pay for playing in the World Cup. The U.S. women received a team total of $2 million when it won the World Cup last year in Canada. Yet when the U.S. men played in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, the team earned a total of $9 million despite going just 1-2-1 and being knocked out in the round of 16.

If the EEOC rules for the players, that could come in the form of a negotiated settlement on behalf of the entire women’s team, or they could force the US Soccer Federation to hand over millions in back pay.