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U.S. Soccer argues it paid women’s team more than men in appeal brief for equal pay lawsuit

The U.S. women filed the lawsuit in 2019, ahead of the Women’s World Cup in France. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

The U.S. Soccer Federation on Wednesday continued its defense against the equal pay lawsuit filed by the U.S. women’s national team, arguing in an appeals court brief that it had, in fact, paid the women’s team more than the men.

A district court judge who ruled against the women’s team in 2020 decided correctly that the women did not have an equal pay claim under the law, U.S. Soccer said in its brief, because the women negotiated a different contract structure than the men. Players for the women’s team ultimately took home more money by several measures, negating their claim, U.S. Soccer argued.

In the team’s appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in California in July, the U.S. women argued that the lower court had improperly ignored performance as a factor in their pay. To make similar amounts per game as the men, the women said, they had to be vastly more successful on the field. Under the men’s contract, the team argued, the women would have earned vastly more money.

U.S. Soccer called the dispute “a fundamental disagreement about what equal pay means under the law.” The disparities between the teams, U.S. Soccer argued, were not because of gender but because international tournaments pay substantially larger bonuses to men than to women.

The women had prioritized a structure that offered stable salaries over the higher risk-higher reward contract of the men, U.S. Soccer said — a structure that allowed them to earn money during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, a lawyer for the team noted in a call Wednesday, while players for the U.S. men’s team were not paid because they did not play games.

“Catchphrases and rhetoric cannot substitute for a sound legal standard duly supported by evidence, which Plaintiffs do not provide,” lawyers for U.S. Soccer wrote in the filing.

Molly Levinson, the spokeswoman for the women’s lawsuit, said in a statement that U.S. Soccer, not FIFA, had decided what bonuses to pay the women. “The reality is that USSF determines its own budget and its own rate of pay and cannot blame FIFA for its own ongoing and past discrimination,” Levinson said.

The U.S. women filed the lawsuit in 2019, ahead of the Women’s World Cup in France, and their fight for equal pay with their employer became a high-profile rallying cry for other women. But federal judge R. Gary Klausner ruled against them in May 2020, dealing a serious blow to the women’s team.

U.S. Soccer is fighting battles on two fronts as it also negotiates new contracts with both its men’s and women’s teams. Last week, the federation made waves when it announced it was offering the same contract to both the men and the women, inviting them to find a solution to equalize the gulf in prize money in men’s and women’s international soccer.

The men’s team has sided with the women in the equal pay lawsuit, filing a blistering amicus brief in July that argued the women should have been paid more. But it is not clear how contract negotiations will unfold. U.S. Soccer has said it asked both teams to help find a solution on equalizing bonuses.

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