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'We Deserved to Be Paid Equally': Reigning Women's World Cup Champions Sue US Soccer Over Gender Discrimination

The "disappointingly necessary" move comes on International Women's Day, and just months ahead of the next FIFA Women's World Cup

The U.S. women's national team celebrates

The U.S. women's national team celebrates after winning the FIFA Women's World Cup against Japan on July 5, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo: Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)

As the global community celebrated International Women's Day on Friday, all 28 members of the World Cup-winning U.S. women's national soccer team filed a federal class-action lawsuit accusing the United States Soccer Federation of "institutionalized gender discrimination."

"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."
—Alex Morgan, U.S. women's national team

The civil lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, is just the latest development in the female athletes' long fight for pay, medical care, training, coaching, travel arrangements, and overall working conditions that are on par with the U.S. men's national team.

The suit alleges that by paying the men more, and granting them better working conditions, the federation is violating the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The class of female players—which could grown to include dozens of more former team members—is seeking "punitive damages and all other appropriate relief."

Lawsuit plaintiffs Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Becky Sauerbrunn, along with former goalkeeper Hope Solo, filed a complaint against U.S. Soccer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2016. The federal agency gave the players a right-to-sue letter last month.

"Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that," Morgan said in a statement. "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."

In terms of victories on the field, the women's team members have notably outperformed their male counterparts—winning three of the seven all-time Women's World Cups as well as gold medals in four of the six Olympic Games that have featured women's soccer.

Regarding their latest World Cup win in 2015, the lawsuit points out that the "title game garnered approximately 23 million viewers, making it the most watched soccer game in American TV history. The post-Cup Victory Tour drew tens of thousands of fans to soccer stadiums across the United States."

The filing comes just months before the next FIFA World Cup, which is scheduled to start on June 7 in Paris.

It also comes amid calls—on International Women's Day—for policymakers worldwide to recognize decades of failures to close gender gaps across industries, and to pursue "a transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality."

Outlining some of the build up to the federal lawsuit, New York Times sports journalist Andrew Das wrote Friday:

The American soccer players who filed the suit are some of the most well-known female athletes in the world and their prominence and willingness to leverage their profiles and their enormous social media followings to their cause has paid dividends already: the team has not played a match on artificial turf, a surface many players dislike, since 2017, for example, and its union holds biweekly meetings with U.S. Soccer to keep the team informed of everything from upcoming opponents and training camps to hotels and travel plans.

Direct comparisons between the compensation of the men's and women's teams can be complicated, however. Each team has its own collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer, and among the major differences are pay structure: the men receive higher bonuses when they play for the United States, but are paid only when they make the team, while the women receive guaranteed salaries supplemented by smaller match bonuses.

One of the biggest differences in compensation is the multimillion-dollar bonuses the teams receive for participating in the World Cup, but those bonuses—a pool of $400 million for 32 men's teams versus $30 million for 24 women's teams—are determined by FIFA, world soccer's governing body, not U.S. Soccer.

Although not directly a part of the suit, the United States National Soccer Team Players Association said in a statement on Friday that it "fully supports the efforts" of the female players and remains "committed to the concept of a revenue-sharing model to... find a way towards fair compensation."

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