American women seek more than $66M in damages from U.S. Soccer

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U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring against Canada during the second half of a CONCACAF women’s Olympic qualifying soccer match Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, in Carson, Calif. The U.S. won 3-0. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Players on the U.S. women’s national team are seeking more than $66 million in damages as part of their gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The damages were included in slew of papers filed Thursday night in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ahead of a trial scheduled to start May 5.

Among the documents filed were the separate collective bargaining agreements of the U.S. men’s and women’s teams, which had not previously been made public.

Players on the women’s national team sued the federation last March alleging institutionalized gender discrimination that includes inequitable compensation between the men’s and women’s teams.

Each side in the class-action lawsuit asked for a summary judgment in their favor. The estimate of damages, including interest, was provided by Finnie Bevin Cook, an economist from Deiter Consulting Group, which was retained by the suing players.

The collective bargaining agreements showed a disparity in bonuses but also highlighted the different pay structures between the two teams.

“Women’s national team players are paid differently because they specifically asked for and negotiated a completely different contract than the men’s national team, despite being offered, and rejecting, a similar pay-to-play agreement during the past negotiations,” U.S. Soccer said in a statement. “Their preference was a contract that provides significant additional benefits that the men’s national team does not have, including guaranteed annual salaries, medical and dental insurance, paid child-care assistance, paid pregnancy and parental leave, severance benefits, salary continuation during periods of injury, access to a retirement plan, multiple bonuses and more.”

Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the plaintiffs, disputed the federation’s assertions.

“In the most recent CBA negotiation, USSF repeatedly said that equal pay was not an option regardless of pay structure,” Levinson said in a statement. “USSF proposed a `pay to play structure’ with less pay across the board. In every instance for a friendly or competitive match, the women players were offered less pay that their male counterparts. This is the very definition of gender discrimination, and of course the players rejected it.”

The lawsuit has drawn worldwide attention. When the U.S. won the World Cup final last summer in France, fans in the crowd chanted “Equal Pay! Equal Pay!”

Earlier this month, the players union for the men’s national team urged the federation to sharply increase pay for the women’s team, while also accusing the governing body of making low-ball offers in current contract negotiations with the men’s team.

Also among the documents filed Thursday were numerous pre-trial depositions. Megan Rapinoe, the reigning FIFA Player of the Year, was deposed Jan. 16. She said Russell Sawyer, an outside lawyer for the USSF, stated during a bargaining session in June 2016 that “market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men.”

USSF President Carlos Cordeiro was asked during a Jan. 29 deposition about a statement he made when campaigning that “our female players have not been treated equally.”

“I felt then and I still feel to a degree, that the lack of opportunity for our female players was really what was at the root of some of their issues,” Cordeiro said. “The fact that the Women’s World Cup generates a fraction of revenue and a fraction of what the men get paid is a reflection, frankly, of lack of opportunity. … Women’s soccer outside of the United States doesn’t have the same degree of respect.”

Former USSF President Sunil Gulati, speaking during a Dec. 17 deposition, discussed the distinctions between men’s and women’s soccer.

“There is an absolute difference, which not everyone seemed to agree to, but do I think that it’s less attractive or less entertaining? I’m not saying that. Or relative quality, I’m not saying that,” he said. “But I’m also not saying, in terms of absolute level of — whether it’s speed or strength, they’re the same. I think most people would accept that, too.”

A U.S. man who was on the roster for all 16 qualifiers during the failed effort to reach the 2018 World Cup earned $179,375 in payments from the U.S. Soccer Federation.

An American woman received $52,500 for being on the roster for the five World Cup qualifiers last year plus $147,500 for her time at the World Cup, including a $37,500 roster bonus and $110,000 for winning the title in France.

The USSF keeps 16-21 women’s players under contract in each year of the current labor deal, which runs through 2021, and pays each a $100,000 salary. The federation also pays a minimum 22 players assigned to a club in the National Women’s Soccer League, with each receiving $70,000 to $75,000 this year.

Women receive 75% of salary on maternity leave for up to one year, and a player has the longer of three months or two training camps to return to full fitness. A player can receive 75% of salary for up to three months when adopting a child and a $50 daily stipend for child care during training and play. The USSF also pays for health, dental and vision insurance for the women.

When the men last qualified for the World Cup in 2014, their player pool got a $2 million payment, and each player earned $55,000 for making the roster and $5,500 per match. The player pool earned $175,000 per point for the group phase, a total of $700,000, plus $3.6 million for reaching the round of 16.

The USSF in its filing pointed out it received $9 million from FIFA for the men reaching the second round of the 2014 World Cup, but $2 million for the women winning in 2015 and $4 million for their victory in 2019.

There is parity in per diems: the women get $62.50 daily while in the U.S. and $75 internationally, the same as the men received under terms of their expired deal that covered 2015-18. And men and women both receive $1.50 per paid attendance for home matches controlled by the USSF.

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