The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

U.S. Soccer refused to pay women equally. It now could be facing a bigger cost.

The U.S. women’s national team, which won the World Cup in July, was granted class status in a judge’s ruling last week. (Claude Paris/AP)

At this point, the burglars who run the U.S. Soccer Federation actually would be cutting their losses if they agreed to pay the World Cup champion women’s team equally. The blockbuster discrimination lawsuit by Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and company is looking like a winner, and by the time all the evidence is heard, a comeuppance-minded jury will put an interesting phrase into play: punitive damages.

What should the penalty be for an organization so arrantly sexist that it paid the No. 1-in-the-world women’s team just 38 cents on the dollar for friendly matches compared to its male counterparts who didn’t even qualify for a World Cup and drove less revenue? How many millions of dollars in insults has U.S. Soccer dealt to a player such as Carli Lloyd, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA player of the year, who the suit claims the federation refuses to give the same basic travel accommodations to as a man?

These are just some of the questions before district court Judge R. Gary Klausner, who has issued one ruling strongly favorable to the 28 members of the U.S. Women’s National Team. In granting class status last week, the judge noted that Morgan and Rapinoe et. al. have “offered sufficient proof” that U.S. Soccer made them work in unequal conditions. Even more significantly, he flatly rejected the federation’s main legal defense on the pay disparity issue as “absurd.” And the jury trial doesn’t even start until May 5.

Fact Checker: Are U.S.. women’s soccer players really earning less than men?

For months, U.S. Soccer, led by President Carlos Cordeiro, tried to crawl and slither out of responsibility for this case by falsely arguing that players such as Rapinoe and Morgan actually are paid “more” than their American male peers. The judge isn’t having it. His ruling clarified the issue, and anyone who was inclined to buy Cordeiro’s logic should read it.

“We have known from the start we have a very powerful legal case and last week’s court ruling granting us class certification was a resounding message to women in the world: Don’t accept anything less than equal. You are worth it. Fight for it if you have to, and justice will come,” U.S. striker Christen Press said.

If Morgan or Rapinoe earned more than a top American male national team player in a year, the judge pointed out, it was only because they had to play so many more games — and win more of them. Not to mention attending many more training camps and performing many more duties. If you pay a woman $10 an hour but she has to work a double shift to take home as much as a man making $20 an hour, that ain’t equal. What matters is the rate they’re paid at, not whether she manages, with sheer strenuousness, to make up the difference.

It was an “absurd” claim, the judge ruled, that there was no “injury” to the players “so long as the women being discriminated against work much more and achieve better results.”

Vlatko Andonovski introduced as new coach of U.S. women’s national team

Here are some of the claims a jury will hear. The USWNT played 19 more games than their male counterparts from 2015 to 2019. Over that period, they had to spend more time practicing, training, traveling, playing and promoting. Yet they earned a maximum of $99,000 per year if they played 20 friendly matches, while men who played in 20 friendlies made $263,320, figures U.S. Soccer says are based on out-of-date numbers from an earlier collective bargaining agreement and don’t include the guaranteed salary each contracted women’s player receives.

From January 2017 through October 2019, Morgan and Rapinoe et. al. won 83 percent of their games, while the men’s team won just 48 percent. The women racked up a record of 48-4-6. The men went 21-11-13 over the same stretch. The women played 58 matches, with 46 friendlies, five World Cup qualifiers and seven World Cup games. The men played just 44 matches with no World Cup games.

So yes, Morgan made $1,201,449.64 over that period, more than her male peer. But had she been paid at the same rate as him for the same work, she’d have made $4,104,920.65.

For Rapinoe, the difference between being an American woman player and an American man was the difference between $1.16 million and $3.7 million. For Lloyd, $1.2 million versus $4.1 million. For Becky Sauerbrunn, $1.18 million versus $4.17 million.

As the players’ lawyers have argued in their pretrial filings, “The notion that a woman has to work two jobs to have a chance to make what a male earns at a single job is not only legally wrong under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act, it is morally repugnant.”

More Jenkins: The U.S. women’s national team is an American treasure. Pay them a bounty.

The lawsuit now has moved into discovery. This week, U.S. Soccer must begin turning over all of the electronic communications, the texts and emails, of executives such as Cordeiro and former president Sunil Gulati. It will be interesting to see what sentiments are contained in them. Here’s how deep the sexism runs at U.S. Soccer: In 2012, one official actually suggested women should be paid only for top-10 victories. In other words, they should play for free against unranked teams. That’s how some of these fellows see women.

What is likely to rile a jury just as much are the crummy little details of their treatment claimed in the suit. In 2017, the men’s team was pampered with charter flights on 17 occasions. It did not charter-fly the women’s team even once. Players consider charter flights a major reprieve and factor in physical recovery, as they allow for more rest before and after games, with no long waits or missed connections in airports. This injury, the judge noted, “is concrete.”

For years, the USWNT has made less money for more and better work and has been treated worse for it. A judge has recognized that. Next, a jury can make the federation accountable for it — with back pay and punitive rewards for every little slight and baked-in sexist assumption inflicted on every individual in the entire class of plaintiffs, which includes any woman who has been called up to a training camp since 2015. If the federation was smart, which it isn’t, it would recognize the size of the bill about to come due.