U.S. Women’s Soccer Players Demand Equal Pay

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Apr 28, 2016

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Soccer FansIt’s well known that male sports stars generally make more money than female sports stars. For example, Kobe Bryant, the highest paid basketball player in the NBA, makes $25 million a year. Diana Taurasi, the highest paid player in the WNBA, makes $107,500 a year.

Some women athletes aren’t happy about the sports pay gap. Members of the US women’s soccer team have filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the US Soccer Federation. They claim it’s not right that they’re paid only one fourth of what the male players are paid. Does their lawsuit have a chance?

The Equal Pay Act of 1963

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was intended to eliminate unfair wage discrimination against women. Section 3 of the act says:

No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex.

The Women’s Soccer Team Case

Here are the facts in the women’s soccer team case:

  • The employer of both the men and women’s teams is the same – The US Soccer Federation.
  • As an example of the wage disparity, the men get $5,000 for a loss and as much as $17,625 for a win. Women get $1,350 for a win and nothing for a loss.
  • The men’s and women’s teams have the same work requirements – have an equal number of “friendlies” in which they must play, and have the same requirements when it comes to preparing for their World Cups.
  • The women’s team is more successful than the men’s team – in the last 25 years they’ve won three World Cups, and they’ve struck gold at the Olympics four times.
  • And here’s where it gets really interesting – the women’s team makes more money. It made $20 million more than the men’s team in 2015.

In an article in USA Today, former EEOC chief Ida Castro said,

They are both soccer teams, right? There is no significant difference between the soccer games that I can see. If they have met all that and can show their male counterparts do not have substantially additional duties — which based on what I’ve seen they don’t have — it will be difficult for the employer to justify the differential in pay.

Implications for Basketball?

Given that it seems likely the women may prevail in the soccer pay dispute, will this help female basketball players?

Alas, not likely. Men and women professional basketball players aren’t employed by the same company, so there’s no single employer to charge with discrimination.

Employers in any field, however, should keep in mind the requirements of the Equal Pay Act: if the work is substantially the same, you can’t pay differently on the basis of gender.

(Photo Credit: “The United States Women’s Soccer Team Ticker-Tape Parade New York City” by Anthony Quintano is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

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