Sometimes a good legal strategy is a lousy publicity strategy. Case in point, the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), which is defending itself in a pay discrimination suit by several popular female players by pointing out that they are smaller and slower than the male players, and thus should be paid less for winning than the men are paid when they lose.
“Plaintiffs ask the Court to conclude that the ability required of an WNT player is equal to the ability required of an MNT player, as a relative matter, by ignoring the materially higher level of speed and strength required to perform the job of an MNT player,” argues the USSF in its latest motion. And while they may have a valid point about the Men’s National Team (MNT) and Women’s National Team (WNT) each negotiating separate contracts covering their different schedules and venues, saying that the women are intrinsically inferior makes USSF sound like … an asshole.
As does mentioning that, “Plaintiff Alex Morgan is receiving 75% of her $100,000 annual salary even though she cannot play because she is pregnant.” Although it does, in some sense, bolster the argument that the contracts are different, not because of sexism by USSF, but because the women chose to give each player a decent base salary, rather than compensating individual players based on performance like the men.
USSF has similarly pointed to the $34 million prize differential between the Women’s and Men’s World Cups, as if FIFA could justify an American employer paying women less than men. Here’s USSF President Carlos Cordiero doing just that in an open letter Saturday, on the eve of the SheBelieves Cup game between the USWNT and Spain. Timing is everything!
“I guess if that’s how you want to celebrate International Women’s Day and show support for, not only your players, but future players and girls all over the place, that’s one way to do it,” Megan Rapinoe told The Athletic.
In its most recent motion, in addition to taking multiple swipes at the women’s game, USSF insists that the men play at a higher level, because “[t]here is a significantly deeper pool of competition in men’s international soccer than there is in women’s international soccer.” Simultaneously, USSF argues that the men have a harder job because men’s soccer fans are all hooligans, and, even at home games, the stands are filled with supporters of their Central American opponents.
Opposing fan hostility encountered in these MNT road environments, especially in Mexico and Central America, is unmatched by anything the WNT must face while trying to qualify for an important tournament. (2nd King Dec. ¶ 16.) Even the hostility of fans at home crowds for the MNT in some friendlies can be unlike anything the WNT faces.
This might possibly have something to do with the fact the WNT has won four of the past eight Women’s World Cups, including the most recent rounds in 2015 and 2019. The men’s team is undoubtedly stronger and faster, but they might find more of their own fans in the stands if they won more.
Indeed, there may be strong legal arguments that the women’s and men’s contracts are not comparable for reasons having nothing to do with sexism. But arguing that the women play more games, but carry less “responsibility” because the prize money is lower and their fans don’t throw beer bottles on the field certainly gives the impression the USSF is bunch of sexist jerks.
Alex Morgan v. USSF, Inc. [Defendant’s Memorandum of Points and Authorities, Case 2:19-cv-01717-RGK (C.D. Cal., March 9, 2020)]
US Soccer Doesn’t Want To Give The Women’s Team Equal Pay Because The Men Have “More Responsibility” [BuzzFeed]
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.
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