The Significance of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Lawsuit


by Charlotte Cronister

On March 8th, three months before the 2019 FIFA World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) on the basis of gender discrimination and equal pay. Three World Cup titles and four Olympic Gold Medals later, the team is finally taking a stand against pay disparities that have plagued not only female athletes but working women for over a century.

The lawsuit states: “The USSF discriminates against the plaintiffs [WNT], and the class they seek to represent, by paying them less than the MNT for substantially equal work and by denying them at least equal playing, training, and travel conditions; equal promotion of their games; equal support and development for their games; and other terms and conditions of employment equal to the MNT.”

Although recently the women’s team has brought in more revenue, earned larger viewing audiences, perform the same job duties that require the same amount of effort, skill, and responsibilities as the Men’s National Team (MNT), and played more games than the men’s team, they still receive fewer benefits and are paid substantially less than their male counterparts. Sufficient evidence validates the claim that the Women’s National Team (WNT) is treated and paid unfairly. “If each team played 20 friendlies in a year and each team won all twenty friendlies,” the lawsuit reveals, “female WNT players would earn a maximum of $99,000 or $4,950 per game, while similarly situated male MNT players would earn an average of $263,320 or $13,166 per game against the various levels of competition they would face. A 20-game winning top tier WNT player would earn only 38% of the compensation of a similarly situated MNT player.”

Based on systemic sexism and how women are perceived in society throughout history, it’s not surprising that these are the conditions that female players face. Women couldn’t even vote until 1919, and it took years of fighting during the progressive movement to even do so. It wasn’t until WW2 when women had to take over men’s jobs in factories before society could believe that they could be more than housewives. It’s been 56 years since the passing of the Equal Pay Act, and 47 years since Title IX was passed, and yet discrimination in the sports world still exists. No matter how talented female athletes are and how much success they garner, they are still paid less.

“The July 5, 2015 World Cup title game garnered approximately 23 million viewers, making it the most watched soccer game in American TV history,” the WNT argues in the lawsuit. “The post-Cup Victory Tour drew tens of thousands of fans to soccer stadiums across the United States, a trend that continued years after that historic achievement.” It would seem as though the USSF would pay their female players the same, or even more, than the men’s team for bringing in more viewers and fans than ever seen before, but that was not the case.

This gap between the men and women’s team portrays a negative message to young female athletes. “I think that it sends a message to young women and young men that make contributions to anything, but especially sports, are more valuable,” says Bridget Hennessy, Upper School History teacher. “And that not only are they going to get paid more, get more bonuses, or get on TV more, but that it’s more competitive and women’s sports are lesser somehow.”

The women’s teams are more actually valuable than the men’s team. “From April 1, 2015-March 31, 2016, the USSF budgeted a combined net loss for the national teams of $429,929,” the lawsuit states. “But thanks largely to the success of the female players on the WNT, the USSF revised its projections upward to include a $17.7 million profit. The net profit for the WNT outstripped net profit for the MNT because the female players on the WNT were more successful in competition than the male players on the MNT – while being paid substantially less.”

“It very much tells them [young women] that society doesn’t deem them to be as important as males,” Ann McGlinn, Upper School English teacher said. “So this isn’t just about sports, as it transcends interests and into other areas like science, which is problematic.” Although these women often spend more time practicing and playing in matches, more time in training camps, traveling, and participating in media sessions compared to their male counterparts, the pay gap tells them that they will never be good enough.

Unfair treatment by the USSF, along with unequal pay, accelerates these female player’s sense of inferiority to the MNT. “From January 1, 2014, through December 31, 2017, the WNT played 62 domestic matches, 13 (21%) of which were played on artificial surfaces. During that same period of time, the MNT played 49 domestic matches, only one (2%) of which was played on an artificial surface.” Artificial turf can lead to serious injuries, including ones that are career-threatening.

Despite the team’s unparalleled success, “The USSF has allocated fewer resources promoting WNT games than it has allocated promoting MNT games; has not announced WNT games with sufficient notice to allow for maximum attendance; and has not used all available means to promote WNT games in a manner at least equal to MNT games.” Promotion of the WNT is a sign of respect that these women deserve, yet the USSF is using more of their resources to promote their male athletes.

The lawsuit provides evidence as to how the USSF discriminates against the WNT by giving them less favorable terms and conditions than the MNT. “The USSF further continues to discriminate against Plaintiffs and similarly situated WNT players by having set ticket prices to the WNT games at a lower price than for MNT games,” the lawsuit states. “The USSF’s unilateral decision to set such lower ticket prices, coupled with its decision to provide substantially less marketing and promotion support to the WNT, results in USSF-manufactured revenue depression for the WNT, which is then used as a pretext for lower compensation for Plaintiffs.”

The girls’ varsity basketball team at Latin faces similar disparities when it comes to the Latin versus Parker winter game. It’s been a tradition that the boys’ team plays after the girls’ game, but this has caused issues over the years. There seem to be fewer students supporting the girls’ team, even though the girls’ team has been equally as successful, if not more, in recent years. They’ve won regionals the past four years in a row, while the boys’ team has not won regionals since the 2011-2012 season. Also, over the past four seasons, the girls’ team holds a record of 86-27, while the boys’ record over this span is 67-36. Despite the girls’ success, many fans show up right when the girls finish playing.

“They don’t get anything close to the support that the boy’s team receives,” said Stefanie Pollock, a junior midfielder on the girls’ varsity soccer team. “I think that overall boys teams are considered a bigger deal than the girls’ teams even though we are doing just as well in our seasons.” Jessie Sulger, a senior captain for the soccer team, said, “It’s frustrating that although [the girls] often dominate, less than a quarter of the number of fans come to support.”

It isn’t just up to faculty to change this culture: it’s up to the student body. “I think that there needs to be a push by students,” said Ms. McGlinn. “I would argue that the girls’ basketball team has been great here for a really long time, so it’s not like people should be going because the girls aren’t as good as the guys.” Teachers aren’t the only ones who recognize that students need to step up to support their classmates. “I think in Latin, generally the coaches and school try to treat teams equally,” said Annabel Edwards, a senior defender on the girls’ varsity soccer team. “However there is still always more attendance at boys games and I think that comes from the students.”

Injustices like that within the USSF and at Latin negate the progress that women have made over the past hundred or so years—yet women are now standing up for what they believe in. Although it’s not happening at a wider scale at Latin, the fact that the WNT is suing the USSF sends a strong message to young girls that standing up against discrimination, no matter how arduous, is the most effective way to create change.

“It feels good to know that there are women out there who see something wrong with the system and are trying to fix it,” said Malia Brandt, a sophomore center midfielder for the Latin girls’ varsity soccer team. “This lawsuit sends the message to young aspiring female athletes that they are just as important as the aspiring boys their age, and that they have the same right to play a sport as boys.”

“I think there is often so much inequality between so many different sports and to have the women’s team, such a successful group of women, speaking out is very empowering,” said Jessie Sulger. “For so long these injustices go unheard of and no one speaks about them, but to have women in the spotlight making their voices is heard is amazing.”

With the World Cup arriving in less than two weeks, all eyes will be on the number one ranked team in the world. Not only are they expected to win, but winning would only strengthen their cause for equal pay. If they can win their fourth World Cup title, it might show the USSF that they are on another level compared to the men’s team, who have never even won a World Cup.

This lawsuit not only impacts women in sports but also women in society. “The fact that this women’s team is so good, and we constantly tell women in American society that if you work really hard or if you’re really good at something you’ll be recognized or rewarded, yet this suggests that that’s isn’t true to young girls,” said Ms. Hennessy.

“I feel that women’s sports, in general, are often not perceived as being as important in our society than men’s,” said Ms. McGlinn. “And I think often that starts at younger ages and that’s something as a society we need to look at cultivating whatever it is, sports or academic interests, that gender should not at all have a role to play at who should be given more focus and support.”