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Lawmakers team up with U.S. women's soccer players on pay dispute

Five members of the U.S. women’s soccer team — Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Rebecca Sauerbrunn and Alex Morganwho — who filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation to end what they view as disparities between their pay and that of players on the men’s team, gained an assist last week from U.S. and California lawmakers who expressed sympathy for their cause.

As the women’s team competes for its fourth straight gold medal this week at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the players’ equal pay campaign also received a boost from the national women’s advocacy group UltraViolet, which ran 30-second ads on NBC stations during Tuesday’s Olympic competitions. The ads alleged that a glass ceiling continues to constrain members of the women’s soccer team.

The U.S. Soccer Federation, however, said the women players make up what is the most highly paid women’s soccer team in the world, and it stood by its previous statement, which called the charges of pay inequality disappointing and inaccurate.

In a letter to the general counsel of the U.S. Soccer Federation, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said they would continue to focus attention on the issue of pay equity for the women’s soccer team.

“Apparent pay disparities such as those between the men’s and women’s soccer teams send the wrong message to young women – and men – and have no place in the 21st century economy,” the senators said.

The senators expressed an interest in verifying the federation’s contention that the pay gap has to do in part with the men’s team generating more revenue over the years. Feinstein and Murray said the 2015 Women’s World Cup broadcast on the Fox networks set viewership records for the sport – men’s games included – and the senators called on the federation to provide them with revenue details about television contracts and bundling arrangements.

A federation spokesman said the organization would offer no additional comments on the pay issue when contacted by AMI Newswire.

A previous statement by the federation’s legal representative, Kathryn Ruemmier, states that the men’s team typically generates more revenue for the federation than the women’s team, both in ticket pricing and television revenues. Tying pay to the revenues generated by employees does not violate the Equal Pay Act or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Ruemmier said.

The federation also states that both teams’ pay is the product of separate collective bargaining agreements. The women’s players opted for a substantial guaranteed top-tier base salary of $72,000 annually, Ruemmier said, along with lower per-game bonuses compared to the men’s players, who earn a living based on a pay-to-play arrangement rather than guaranteed income.

In addition, the women players’ complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does not mention the benefits they receive, such as severance pay, maternity leave, relocation allowance, child care and medical insurance, according to the federation’s position statement. The men’s contract contains none of these provisions, Ruemmier said in the document submitted to the EEOC.

The men’s total earnings are also affected by actions that the federation has no control over, according to the position statement. These include bonus payments handed out to players every four years by the sport’s international governing body, FIFA.

The EEOC complaint said that in 2015, the men’s team earned $9 million in FIFA payments after losing the World Cup’s Round of 16 competitions, compared to $2 million given to the women’s team, which won its tournament. Ruemmier’s statement, however, says that this prize money is determined by FIFA, not the U.S. Soccer Federation, based on the commercial value of the competitions and is not discriminatory.

Moreover, the five women players who filed the complaint received nearly a third more in payments from the federation over the past four years than the five highest-paid members of the men’s team, according to Ruemmier.

But the EEOC complaint charges that when examined on a per-game basis, the federation pays top-tier women’s players compensation that amounts to between 38 percent and 72 percent of what male team members make.

“Our compensation pales in comparison to that of the MNT (men’s national team) players,” says the complaint, which was filed by goalkeeper Hope Solo and four other players.

The controversy prompted a Republican assemblywoman in California, Ling Ling Chang of Diamond Bar, last week to announce the introduction of a resolution calling for an end to soccer pay disparities. That measure, which was co-authored by six other assemblywomen – four Democrats and two Republicans – has been referred to the Assembly’s Committee on Labor and Employment, Chang spokesman Anthony Kuo told AMI Newswire.

“For the U.S. women’s team, equal play does not mean equal pay,” Chang said in a prepared statement. “What kind of message does that send to aspiring, young female soccer players?”

Nita Chaudhary, the co-founder of UltraViolet, pointed out that the women’s team has brought prestige to the sport and inspired young women worldwide by winning three World Cup championships and four Olympic medals.

“It’s so disgraceful that despite these tremendous successes, these sports heroes are still paid less than half the pay of the U.S. men’s team, which has never even won a single World Cup or an Olympic championship,” Chaudhary said in a prepared statement.

The U.S. Soccer Federation also attributes pay differences to the timing of collective bargaining agreements and says that the men’s players renegotiated their contract in 2015, while the women remain bound by a 2012 contract.