The US Women’s National Soccer Team is a force to be reckoned with, both on and off the soccer field. As explained by the New York Times, the Women’s Team is a “quadrennial phenomenon;” they are the reigning World Cup champions, they won gold for the fourth time in five Olympics at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, and they are highly expected to emerge victorious again at this year’s Summer Olympic Games in Rio. On the other hand, the Men’s National Team has historically delivered forgettable and lackluster performances at virtually every major international tournament. While the disparity in performance on the field greatly favors the Women’s Team, when it comes to the almighty dollar, the scale dramatically tips the other way. According to CCN, depending on the type of match, the women earn between 28% and 62% less than the men. For example, men are paid upwards of $17,625 for an exhibition match if they win and are guaranteed at least $5,000 if they lose. However, the maximum the women are ever paid, even if they win, is $4,950. To add fuel to the fire, while the men have a guaranteed minimum $5,000 paycheck for each and every exhibition game, the women are only paid for the first 20 exhibition games each year and nothing beyond that. Moreover, despite losing in round 16 of the 2014 World Cup, the Men’s Team still took home a hefty $9 million paycheck. And yet, as a reward(?) for winning gold at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the women took home a meager $2 million. Frankly, the staggeringly wide pay game is unjustifiable, unreasonable, and insulting.
After arguing their case internally with the US Soccer Federation for years, in late March 2016 the members of the Women’s Team took their fight for the right to fair and equal pay public. Represented by attorney Jeffrey Kessler of the law firm Winston and Strawn, LLP, the same attorney who successfully defended Tom Brady in Deflategate, the five team captains filed a complaint on behalf of the entire team with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces equal pay law. Kessler perfectly summarized the gravamen of the issue: “The women’s team does the identical work as the men’s team, except they have outperformed in every way…You can argue that based on their success, they’re entitled to even higher pay, but the law only requires at least equal pay. That just makes the case for equal pay all the more compelling.”
While the current labor agreement that governs the national team members expires at the end of the year, the EEOC will initiate an investigation and if it cannot come to an agreement with the National Soccer Federation, an enforcement action may be filed.
Loren Shokes is an Entertainment and Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current second year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2017).