The US women’s soccer team just won another World Cup, so how come the athletes still lose to the men when it comes to their paychecks?
That’s the predicament of the champions, who will get a ticker tape parade in New York City on Wednesday to celebrate back-to-back World Cup championships.
Yet the US Soccer Federation, which employs both men’s and women’s teams, still refuses to pay female players as much as the male players. The women have been fighting for equal pay since 2016, filing a complaint first with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then a federal lawsuit in March.
How bad is the wage gap?
From 2013 to 2016, a woman who played and won 20 non-tournament soccer games could earn at most $99,000, according to their lawsuit. For men, the maximum pay was $263,320.
The federation denies the allegations in court filings, arguing the disparities exist because women earn guaranteed salaries and benefits, while men are under a “pay-for-play” structure. The federation also claims the women’s and men’s teams are “physically and functionally separate organizations” and have separate budgets and collective bargaining agreements.
But in the court of public opinion, the federation has already lost its case. Fans were even chanting “equal pay” during the World Cup trophy ceremony on Sunday after the United States beat the Netherlands, 2 to 0.
Of course the women should be paid as much as the men. If anything, maybe they should get more .
The women’s soccer team fight reminds me a lot of when Elizabeth Rowe, the principal flutist at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, sued the orchestra in one of the first tests of the Massachusetts equal pay law in 2018.
Rowe, like the women’s soccer team, is a star at a world-class organization, yet she had been fighting for years for equal pay from the BSO. Her lawsuit, in Suffolk Superior Court, claimed she made roughly three-quarters the salary of BSO’s principal oboist, John Ferrillo, whose level she considers comparable to hers.
The BSO denied the allegations of pay discrimination based on gender, arguing “the flute and the oboe are not comparable instruments, nor are they treated as such by most major orchestras in the United States.”
When women are paid less than men for doing what appear to be similar jobs, why do employers insist on changing the playing field instead of leveling it?
Rowe, who had sought $200,000 in unpaid back wages, reached a confidential settlement with the BSO in February. In a joint statement, both sides said they were satisfied with the outcome. Rowe remains the BSO’s principal flutist.
Rowe’s attorney, Elizabeth Rodgers, said implicit bias appears to be playing a role in soccer, as it does across so many industries.
“Research shows that pay and gender discrimination are a result of a historical state of mind in which men who seek additional pay are presumed competent and get it, and women who seek additional pay are seen as troublemakers and are refused,” Rodgers told me. “That stereotyping is illegal and has to be called out when it occurs.”
Rodgers, a Boston attorney who specializes in wage-discrimination cases, points out that symphonies decades ago began conducting blind auditions as a way to decrease gender discrimination and to help ensure that hiring decisions were based on a musician’s skill, not on gender. But the soccer federation only seems interested in keeping the status quo.
“Is discrimination so deep that we’re now simply blind?” Rodgers said. “Equalize the pay, and close this case.”
Michael McCann, director of the Sports & Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law, predicts the women’s soccer team and the federation will most likely try to settle the case rather than go to trial.
“The two sides intend to use mediation now that the World Cup is over. This shows they are talking or at least willing to talk,” McCann wrote in an e-mail. “The case is resolvable if they find common ground on compensation issues. There is also significant public pressure on US Soccer to address pay issues.”
With the World Cup win, the pressure will only increase from fans and corporate sponsors. Adidas has already pledged to give individual women’s team players it sponsors the same World Cup performance bonus as their male counterparts. Luna Bar has donated $31,250 to each woman who made the US World Cup team, to close the pay gap between female and male players.
After Sunday’s victory, a who’s who of tweeters lit up social media with #equalpay and calls to pay the women more. They ranged from congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to tennis legend Billie Jean King.
The US Soccer women’s team has made history with four World Cup victories. Now it’s time for the athletes’ employer, the US Soccer Federation, to get on the right side of history.