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Federal Judge Dismisses U.S. Women's Soccer Team's Equal Pay Claim

Players line up for a photo prior to the Women's World Cup final between the U.S. and the Netherlands in Décines, outside Lyon, France, on July 7, 2019. The U.S. team won 2-0 for its fourth World Cup title.
Alessandra Tarantino
Players line up for a photo prior to the Women's World Cup final between the U.S. and the Netherlands in Décines, outside Lyon, France, on July 7, 2019. The U.S. team won 2-0 for its fourth World Cup title.

The World Cup champion U.S. women's soccer team is vowing to fight on after a judge dismissed key parts of their lawsuit seeking compensation equal to that of their male counterparts.

Federal Judge R. Gary Klausner rejected the women's team's argument over receiving lower pay than the U.S. men's team. He also dismissed a claim of unequal working conditions related to the number of turf and real grass pitches. While the judge did allow other claims in the lawsuit to move forward to trial, for the women who won the hearts of the nation with a romp to the World Cup title last year, the ruling is a major blow.

"We are shocked and disappointed with today's decision, but we will not give up our hard work for equal pay," Molly Levinson, spokesperson for the players, said in a statement.

Team co-captain Megan Rapinoe tweeted: "We will never stop fighting for EQUALITY."

The U.S. women filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in March 2019, months after the U.S. men's soccer team failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018.

The lawsuit argued in part that "the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts. This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players."

The U.S. women then went on to dominate the 2019 tournament, culminating with a 2-0 win over the Netherlands that fueled support for their claim that they were undervalued. The crowd cheering the team's victory in France erupted into a chant of "equal pay, equal pay!"

In dismissing the women's claim that they are paid less for the same work, Klausner pointed to differences in the structure of the men's and women's contracts — contracts to which they agreed in collective bargaining.

"The WNT [Women's National Team] rejected an offer to be paid under the same pay-to-play structure as the MNT [Men's National Team] and ... the WNT was willing to forgo higher bonuses for other benefits, such as greater base compensation and the guarantee of a higher number of contracted players," Klausner wrote. "Accordingly, Plaintiffs cannot now retroactively deem their CBA worse than the MNT CBA by reference to what they would have made had they been paid under the MNT's pay-to-play structure when they themselves rejected such a structure."

The judge said the women's contract guarantees players will be paid regardless of whether they play. The men are paid if they are called into camp to play and then participate in a match. On this point, Klausner said, the plaintiff's statements "were insufficient to establish a genuine dispute."

After Klausner's ruling Friday, Levinson promised that the women "will appeal and press on."

"We have learned that there are tremendous obstacles to change," she said. "We know that it takes bravery and courage and perseverance to stand up to them."

For its part, U.S. Soccer expressed hope for a less acrimonious future: "We look forward to working with the Women's National Team to chart a positive path forward to grow the game ... we are committed to continuing that work to ensure our Women's National Team remains the best in the world and sets the standard for women's soccer."

A trial for the remaining portions of the lawsuit, which include allegations of differences in men's and women's travel and hotel accommodations, is set to begin in June.

You can read the judge's decision here.

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