The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team holds three Women's World Cup trophies and four Olympic gold medals, among a number of other achievements. The team has been ranked No. 1 of No. 2 for most of the 2000s and 2010s and is currently ranked No. 1. It entered the qualifying competition for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup upon a 21-game win streak and dominated the competition, ultimately qualifying.
The U.S. Men's National Soccer Team failed to even qualify for the 2018 men's World Cup and has never won a World Cup title.
Yet despite the women's team having achieved "unmatched success" internationally, the U.S. Soccer Federation, which employs both the men's and women's teams, has failed to treat -- and pay -- the two teams equally, according to a recent federal lawsuit brought by the women's team.
Male and female soccer players allegedly paid, treated unequally
According to the women's team, the Federation blames "market realities" for the substantial pay disparity between the two teams.
The players are paid a fixed rate for each game that depends on the international ranking of the opposing team. Currently, members of the men's team can earn between a minimum of $5,000 to $17,625 per game, with no cap on earnings.
The women, on the other hand, are only paid for games where they beat a Top 10 international team. Between 2013 and 2016, there was a salary cap of $72,000, although bonuses are allowed for World Cup and Olympic games.
In addition to the salary differences, the women's team says that the Federation allocates less in marketing resources to the women and charters fewer flights to their international games.
The women are seeking a finding that the Federation's pay practices are discriminatory and an injunction against the Federation from continuing those practices. They also seek an unspecified amount in back pay.
"Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey," said team co-captain Alex Morgan, "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. As players, we deserved to be paid equally for our work, regardless of our gender."
U.S. Soccer Federation must give non-discriminatory reason for the disparities
If the U.S. Soccer Federation is to win on substantive grounds, it must put forward a neutral, non-discriminatory reason for the pay disparity and other complaints that is not merely a pretext. The idea that women should be paid less because women's soccer is, on the whole, less popular than men's might not be an acceptable reason, because customer preference is generally not considered a sufficient reason for discrimination.