With three World Cup titles and four Olympic Gold medals, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team is the most-decorated team in international women’s soccer.
Now, as they gear up to defend their 2015 World Cup title, all 28 members of the current roster are participating in a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The lawsuit alleges the team has been subject to gender discrimination that manifests in conditions that are inferior to the men’s team, despite the fact that the women’s team has a better record (for example, the U.S. men’s team failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup, according to USA Today). These discrepancies include paychecks, training and playing conditions, coaching, travel arrangements, and medical treatment.
This is not a new issue for the team. In 2016, five players on the team lodged a federal complaint against U.S. Soccer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming they were not being paid fairly compared with their male counterparts.
In a legal document for the latest suit, provided by the New York Times, the team’s representative writes that the team has experienced “purposeful gender discrimination even during times when the WNT [Women’s National Soccer team] earned more profit, played more games, won more games, earned more championships, and/or garnered higher television audiences.”
They also claim that, despite promises from U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, the organization has “paid only lip service to gender equality and continues to practice gender-based discrimination against its champion female employees on the WNT in comparison to its less successful male employees on the MNT [Men’s National Soccer team].”
The team is seeking equal treatment and pay as the male team moving forward, as well as back pay. U.S. Soccer told ABC News it does not comment on ongoing legal matters. Refinery29 has reached out to U.S. Soccer and will update this post as more information becomes available.
The suit has many challenges, according to the New York Times. In order to win, the women’s team, represented by Jeffrey Kessler, must prove they do the same amount of work as the men’s team. They also have to assert that long-held structural differences (such as a bonus system in which men are paid a high bonus per game, but only if they make the team, while women receive a standard base salary as well as small game bonus) between the teams are, in fact, discriminatory.
Due to an earlier collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer, the team is also unable to strike, as 1999 World Cup champions did in 2000 by boycotting a tournament in Australia, according to OZY, until 2021.
Still, to the plaintiffs, the suit appears to be part of a fight for long-needed gender pay equity, as well as an argument that the women’s team has achieved great success in spite of their conditions, not because of them.
“Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that,” forward Alex Morgan told Time in a prepared 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.”