Now that the U.S. Senior Women’s Soccer Team (USWNT) has won again on the field, can the players forge a similar victory off the field to achieve equal pay?
The USWNT rewrote the record books at the recent World Cup competition, thoroughly dominating the competition in winning its fourth World Cup, and second in a row. Some of the later games were close, but the USWNT was the team to beat and in control of the media narrative during this World Cup.
So popular was this women’s World Cup that the U.S. team’s final against the Netherlands had televisions ratings 20% higher than last year’s men’s World Cup final, according to USA Today. Of course, the U.S. Senior Men’s Team didn’t qualify for last year’s World Cup. The team continues to struggle, losing to Mexico in this year’s finals of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF ) Gold Cup on the same day that the women’s team triumphed.
The irony will not be lost on the women’s team players when they meet with the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) to discuss changing the pay equilibrium between the two U.S. national soccer teams. The parties will enter mediation in an effort to resolve the USWNT’s gender discrimination lawsuit against USSF.
On International Women’s Day, the USWNT filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against USSF in the United District Court in Los Angeles under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Considering the success of the women’s team on the international stage, the timing was fitting right before this year’s World Cup.
The action “seeks an end to the USSF’s discriminatory practices, and an award to make Plaintiffs and the class whole, as well as to provide for liquidated and punitive damages and all other appropriate relief.”
“Notwithstanding the unbridled on-field success and financial contributions of the WNT (Women’s National Team) players, the USSF has and continues to have a policy and practice of discriminating against Plaintiffs based upon their gender by treating them substantially less favorably than members of the MNT (Men’s National Team) with regard to pay and other terms and conditions of employment despite the USSF requiring Plaintiffs to perform the same job duties that require equal skill, effort and responsibilities performed under similar working conditions as MNT players,” the lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the 28 members of the women’s national team. The lawsuit is asking for class-action status, which would allow former national team players from 2015 onward to participate. The lawsuit ends a 2016 complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by some members of the women’s national team, which resulted in the EEOC advising the players they had the right to sue the USSF over pay discrimination issues.
In an effort to work out their differences, the players and USSF have moved to mediation.
One of the biggest differences for male and female soccer players performing on U.S. national soccer teams can be found in their pay structures. Under separate bargaining agreements with USSF, male soccer players receive larger game bonuses while female players receive smaller game bonuses, but have guaranteed salary earnings. For example, the lawsuit cites that for the 2014 World Cup, USSF paid $5.375 million in bonuses to the men’s team, which lost in the round of 16, while the U.S. women’s team, which won the World Cup in 2015, were paid $1.725 million in bonuses that year.
The pay issue goes beyond the United States. Another significant difference in pay can be found on the international stage in the bonus individual teams receive for participating in the World Cup, which is controlled by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). For the World Cup competition, $400 million is dispersed among the 32 male soccer teams competing compared to $30 million for the 24 female soccer teams competing. FIFA recently said it would increase the prize money for the next women’s World Cup to $60 million, still well below prize money for the men.
As The New York Times noted in an article: “Friday’s legal action is the latest flash point in a years long fight for pay equity and equal treatment by the national team, which has long chafed — first privately, but increasingly publicly — about the compensation, support and working conditions it receives while representing U.S. Soccer.”
Alex Morgan, one of the team’s most popular players, put it this way, as quoted in The Washington Post: “Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that. 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.”
The lawsuit is one of many examples of the growing unrest about the issue of equal pay in the U.S. and around the world.
The reality is that the discussion around pay equity issues is growing louder. One could see a prime example in the chants of “equal pay” that came from the crowd as the USNWT celebrated its World Cup victory.
In a society of growing income inequality, those who are seeing themselves devalued in their workplaces have had enough. They are becoming bolder in expressing their feelings that pay discrimination needs to end. All over the world, working women, no matter the industry, are speaking out in efforts to attain equal pay.
Many federal and state legislators and officials are responding to the call. An increasing number of countries, states, and cities are passing legislation to force equal pay into practice. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Paycheck Fairness Act.
It’s only a matter of time before your organization is asked about its pay equity practices, either by employees or regulatory officials. Better to prepare now to address these issues than wait for a lawsuit or regulatory or legislative actions that could put your organization at a disadvantage.
Organizations that do not want to be blindsided by expensive lawsuits and bad PR should consider a pay equity audit. A pay equity audit can identify pay differences between employees that cannot be explained due to job-related factors. It is a multi-disciplinary effort that requires extensive domain knowledge expertise in labor law across various jurisdictions, such as econometrics, statistics and statistical modeling, workforce data management, and knowledge of regulatory audit processes by agencies such as the OFCCP and EEOC.
This type of audit not only identifies problems, but also provides actionable solutions. It gives employers an opportunity to ensure fairness in pay and prevent employee issues. It allows the employer to minimize risk by identifying and remediating deficiencies, providing the employer with greater standing to defend against–and win–claims of pay discrimination.
As Bob Dylan famously wrote: “For the times they are a-changin’.” It’s time for your organization to recognize that the rising call for equal pay is not going away. It’s time to consider changing with the times and preparing your organization to provide equitable pay to all employees.