Equal Pay For Equal Play
Growing up in Europe, I’m expected to love soccer. It’s part of our culture, on par with bread and cheese, a unifying factor in a divided continent. Sadly, I never cared too much about soccer, or any sport that involves fighting over a ball. Just buy your own ball. Problem solved.
But then I learned the U.S. National Women’s Team (“USNWT”) is playing offense for equal pay. Ladies, you have my attention! Earlier this year, five members of the USNWT filed an equal pay action against the U.S. Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint alleges that the women earned $2 million for winning the 2015 World Cup, while the men earned $9 million after being eliminated from that same tournament in 2014. The complaint further alleges that both national teams are required to play 20 exhibition games a year; however, a male player who loses all games would make $100,000, while a female player would make $99,000 for winning all “friendlies.” Their concerns are broader than equal pay—other discrepancies include the quality of the stadiums (men always play on grass), and flights to games (women fly coach, men fly business class).
We do not know yet how this conflict will end. But to me, they already reached their goal because it’s important for successful women to keep fighting for more. Some say these women may have the most desired jobs in the world. Every day they live their passion. The women have achieved fame and notoriety. Young girls all over the world idolize them. Arguably, they do not desperately “need” more money.
“We continue to be told we should be grateful just to have the opportunity to play professional soccer,” two-time Olympic gold medalist Hope Solo said on NBC’s Today show.
This is a reoccurring theme when women fight for equal pay: They are perceived as being “difficult.” I’ve encountered this not only from others, but from myself, “I shouldn’t be difficult . . . because at least I am no longer scavenging vending machines for forgotten change,” and, “I shouldn’t be difficult . . . because maybe I will be perceived as ungrateful.” We need to get over it.
The simple truth is that the men’s soccer team is getting more money and better working conditions. The inherently unfair message in pay discrepancy is simple: “Women are inferior to men.”
This is evidenced by U.S. Soccer Federation’s release in response to the complaint: “While we have not seen this complaint and can’t comment on the specifics of it, we are disappointed about this action.” They clearly dropped the ball here. Even though U.S. Soccer did not even bother to read the allegations and has no idea what the basis of the complaint is, they have already concluded that they are disappointed in these women. It’s like giving a red card without observing any foul play.
The EEOC will now conduct an investigation into the claims. As an employment lawyer, I expect the team to pursue their case in U.S. District Court if the EEOC cannot resolve it.
When women speak up at the highest levels of professional sports, it creates a ripple effect. We have the ball, let's kick it and win.
Editor's note: The U.S. Women's Soccer Team starts competing in the Rio Olympics this afternoon. As we cheer them on, let's also recommit ourselves to advancing the status of women in the law and society.
This blog was authored by Daphne Delvaux