Embroiled in a lawsuit over equal pay, lawyers for the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) employer argued in a court filing Monday that women athletes are less skilled and work less demanding jobs than their male counterparts.
The filing was part of US Soccer’s attempt to prove that it has not discriminated against the World Cup champion team based on their gender.
Court documents filed in the equal pay trial, which captivated the country last summer after the USWNT won its fourth World Cup title in France, show US Soccer lawyers arguing that, under the Equal Pay Act, “The job of a [men’s national team player] carries more responsibility within US Soccer than the job of a [women’s national team] player.”
US Soccer also pointed to biological differences and “indisputable science” to argue that women should be paid less because the men’s team “requires a higher level of skill” than the women’s team.
The federation’s lawyers grilled women’s national team stars like Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan over the fact that they were not as strong or fast as players on the men’s team.
“Do you think that the team could be competitive against the senior men’s national team?” a US Soccer lawyer asked Lloyd, according to documents filed last month.
“I’m not sure,” Lloyd said. “Shall we fight it out to see who wins and then we get paid more?”
As US Soccer built its case, a lawyer for the organization asked Morgan, “Do you think it requires more skill to play for the US Men’s National Team than the US Women’s National Team?”
“No,” Morgan replied. “It’s a different skill.”
That US men's team players often face openly hostile fans at their own home games, US Soccer argued, was also evidence that men work a different, more demanding job than women. The US men’s opponents, like Mexico, sometimes attract more supporters to games played on US soil than the US men do, especially in the wake of the men’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
With a jury trial looming in May, the gulf between the USWNT and its employer appears wider than ever. The US women are asking for some $67 million in back pay for what they claim is US Soccer’s violation of the Equal Pay Act.
A letter released this week from US Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro claimed that his organization had offered an equal pay structure with the men’s national team, which the women had rejected. But USWNT lawyers countered that the “equal pay” offer was based on a contract the men’s team had negotiated nine years ago in 2011, and which it is itself in the midst of renegotiating.
FIFA, the worldwide governing body of the sport, pays much larger chunks of prize money for the men's World Cup than the women's. In their suit, the women have argued that US Soccer should not pay them less because of FIFA's prize structure, but US Soccer has said that matching the bonus paid out by FIFA to men's winners would cause the organization financial harm.
Angering some women’s team players, Cordeiro released his letter on the eve of one of the national team’s biggest games played on US soil, a rematch of the 2019 World Cup game against Spain in front of a sold-out crowd in New Jersey.
The game is part of the She Believes Cup, an elite women’s tournament hosted by US Soccer around International Women’s Day that features young girls as “She Believes heroes.”
“I mean, the timing of it on the eve of not only a game, but in this tournament and on the eve of International Women’s Day,” Megan Rapinoe told reporters, according to the Athletic. “I guess if that’s how you want to celebrate International Women’s Day and show support for not only your players but future players and girls all over the place, that’s one way to do it.”