On July 7, 2019, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) won its fourth Women’s World Cup title, defeating the Netherlands 2-0. This victory also brought attention to the controversy regarding the players’ wages. Twenty-eight members of the USWNT filed suit in March 2019 against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the governing body for both the men’s and women’s national teams. The lawsuit alleges violations of the Equal Pay Act (EPA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It seeks certification as a collective action under the EPA and a class action under Title VII. While the suit is pending in the Central District of California, one of the plaintiffs resides in New Jersey and plays for the Piscataway-based professional soccer team Skye Blue FC. Another plaintiff resides in New York.
Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). This includes disparate salaries for substantially similar work. The EPA addresses this issue more directly, barring employers from paying employees at different rates based on sex, when the jobs “require equal skill, effort, and responsibility…under similar working conditions.” 29 U.S.C. § 206(d).
Congress enacted the EPA as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which governs minimum wage, overtime, and other pay-related issues. An employee may assert claims under the FLSA for themselves and on behalf of “other employees similarly situated,” provided that those employees consent in writing. Id. at § 216(b). For Title VII claims, a group of plaintiffs can ask a court to certify their case as a class action if they can establish four elements: numerosity of claimants, commonality of claims, typicality of the representatives’ claims, and ability of the representatives to represent the other class members. Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a).
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) began holding tournaments for women’s national teams every four years in 1991. The USWNT’s four titles therefore represent half of all of the tournaments that have ever occurred. The team placed second or third in the other four tournaments. FIFA has held twenty-one World Cup tournaments for national men’s soccer teams since 1930. The U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) has appeared in ten of those tournaments. It only reached the finals in 1930, when it placed third.
Advocates for the USWNT’s equal pay claims note the disparity in the two teams’ global standing. This is at least partly thanks to investment in women’s sports teams in the U.S. after the passage of Title IX in 1972. By some accounts, the USWNT now brings in more revenue for the USSF than the men’s team, which potentially undercuts claims that male players should be paid more because their teams generate more in income. Revenue statistics, speculation about who would win in a match between the USWNT and the USMNT, and similar arguments might not be relevant in the end. The question for the court is likely to be whether players on each team perform similar jobs under similar circumstances, but get paid at different rates.
The Resnick Law Group’s knowledgeable and skilled employment attorneys are available to help you in your gender discrimination dispute with an employer in New Jersey or New York. Please contact us at 973-781-1204, at 646-867-7997, or online today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your rights and options.