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U.S. men's soccer team backs women in equal pay fight

3 minute read

Danielle Parhizkaran via USA TODAY NETWORK

  • Union for men's team cites decades of bias against female players
  • Women's team seeking to revive equal pay claims tossed by judge
  • Former EEOC, DOL officials also backing female players

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(Reuters) - The union representing the U.S. men's soccer team on Friday told a U.S. appeals court that female players have for decades been treated as "second-class citizens," and called for the revival of an equal pay lawsuit by the elite women's team.

The U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association, represented by Weil Gotshal & Manges, said in an amicus brief that a California federal judge was wrong to find that because female players' total compensation was equal to that of their male counterparts, it did not matter that they receive lower performance bonuses and per-game appearance fees.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a separate brief backing the women's team, saying female players would have earned millions of dollars more had they been paid under the same terms as men.

The U.S. women's team has been top ranked in the world for the last six years and has never ranked lower than second in its three-decade existence. And that success is the only reason the players have matched the pay of the men's team, which has struggled in recent years, the union and the EEOC said in their briefs.

Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the women's team, said the players were grateful for the support. The women's team is represented by Mayer Brown.

The Soccer Federation, which is represented by Latham & Watkins, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 2020 World Cup-winning women's team sued the federation, their governing body, in 2019 seeking $66 million in damages under the federal Equal Pay Act, alleging gender discrimination in compensation and other playing conditions such as medical treatment and travel arrangements relative to the men's team.

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner in Los Angeles last year threw out the players' claims that they were underpaid compared to men. He divided the players' total amount of compensation by the number of games they played and found that, on average, the women actually earned more.

But the women's team in a brief filed with the 9th Circuit last week said pay is not equal if women must consistently outperform men to achieve the same results.

The Players Association in Friday's amicus brief agreed and said upholding the Soccer Federation's pay structure would perpetuate decades of discrimination against female players and send the message to women and girls that no matter how hard they work, they will be undervalued by employers.

"Indeed, rather than compensating the women equally and embracing all National Team players, the Federation has devoted substantial revenue to litigating and lobbying, in the misguided hope of preserving a system that treats the women as inferior," the union's lawyers wrote in the brief.

A group of 15 former officials with the EEOC and U.S. Department of Labor, which both enforce the EPA, also filed an amicus brief on Friday backing the women's team. They said Klausner ignored key tenets of the law, including that an employee’s agreement to the pay rates in a collective bargaining agreement does not negate pay inequality.

The case is Morgan v. U.S. Soccer Federation Inc, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-55356.

For the players: Nicole Saharsky of Mayer Brown

For U.S. Soccer: Jamie Wine of Latham & Watkins

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.

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