Thursday, March 14, 2019
Twenty-eight members of the world champion United States women’s soccer team significantly escalated their long-running fight with the country’s soccer federation over pay equity and working conditions, filing a gender discrimination lawsuit on Friday.
The suit, in United States District Court in Los Angeles, comes only three months before the team will begin defense of its Women’s World Cup title at this summer’s tournament in France. In their filing and a statement released by the team, the 28 players described “institutionalized gender discrimination” that they say has existed for years.
The discrimination, the athletes said, affects not only their paychecks but also where they play and how often, how they train, the medical treatment and coaching they receive, and even how they travel to matches.***
The bulk of the suit mirrors many of the issues raised in a wage discrimination complaint filed by five United States players with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016. Frustrated by a lack of progress on that complaint after nearly three years of inaction, the players received permission from the federal agency in February to sue instead. (One of the players on the original complaint, the former goalkeeper Hope Solo, filed her own gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in August.)
The suit offers a new forum but also new hurdles. The players, represented by Jeffrey Kessler, who has been involved in labor fights in nearly every major American sport, will have to prove not only that their team and the men’s squad do the same work, but also overcome questions about the differences in their pay structures and their negotiated collective bargaining agreements. And the C.B.A. has already left them without one bit of leverage: The players cannot strike to press their case at least until it expires at the end of 2021.
But to experts in gender discrimination and Title IX cases, the argument they are making is familiar.
“These are the same kinds of arguments and claims that we still see at every level of education for women and girls, from K through 12 to college,” said Neena Chaudhry, the general counsel of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington. “It’s unfortunately a sad continuation of the way that women and girls in sports are treated in the U.S.”