Examining Why U.S. Women’s Soccer Stars Shot Back with Their Wage Discrimination Lawsuit 22:00, June 27, 2016

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Examining Why U.S. Women’s Soccer Stars Shot Back with Their Wage Discrimination Lawsuit

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The “Quiet Revolution”

Discrimination appears to rear its ugly head on almost a daily basis in the American workplace. Whether it’s age, ethnicity, religion, gender—the list goes on—workplace discrimination is not a black-and-white concept and can arise in even the most unexpected circumstances. And though we’ve come so far as the decades go on, we still have quite a way to go before we can understand how to handle discrimination, and possibly associated legal claims, in the workplace.

Companies are responsible for a lot, such as payroll, compliance, human resources, sales, and customer service. Addressing the wage gap that exists between male and female employees is an additional responsibility to which companies must be proactive. The longer this form of discrimination—and any other—persists, the more uprising companies will get from their employees. While the wage gap has persisted for many years, let’s take a closer look into why five high-profile members of the U.S. women’s soccer team have decided to take action.

The U.S. women’s soccer team is world-renowned for its achievements as reigning World Cup and Olympic champions. However, they believe their successes and efforts have yet to be rewarded with pay equal to their male counterparts. As a result, a federal complaint has been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the U.S. Soccer Federation (“USSF”), charging the latter with wage discrimination.

As covered in an article published by the New York Times, “The players involved in the complaint are among the most prominent and decorated female athletes in the world: the co-captains Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn, forward Alex Morgan, midfielder Megan Rapinoe and goalkeeper Hope Solo.”

According to a brief released in April 2015 by the White House, women now account for 47% of the workforce, hold 49.3% of jobs, and are more likely to hold multiple jobs in comparison to men. The brief delves into the issue of wage gap in regard to Equal Pay Day, which is on April 14th of each year, and calls attention to the “tremendous strides” women have made in the labor market, yet a large gender pay gap still exists. “In 2013, the median woman working full-time all year earned 78 percent of what the median man working full-time all year earned,” states the brief. Women have come a long way, entering occupations once held solely by men, and are seeking to gain equality in the workforce. This female movement is what researcher and American economist Claudia Goldin has coined a “quiet revolution.”

“The Numbers Speak for Themselves”

The complaint details the wage discrimination the women’s soccer team endures in comparison to the men’s national soccer team, whose salaries are much higher—by about 62%. In an article published by The Guardian, this wage gap is regarded as “a yawning chasm of American shame.” Just last year, the U.S. women’s soccer team “produced $20m more in revenue than the men’s team, and yet their players make four times less.” While such revenue demonstrates both the talent of the team as well as how far this nation has come in regard to gender equality in sports, it’s disappointing that the team’s success is not reflected in their compensation.

Incidentally, one might argue that the less successful men’s team sells more game tickets and gets more television views compared to the women’s team, but according to The New York Times: “[the women’s team] exceeded revenue projections by as much as $16 million in 2015, when their World Cup triumph set television viewership records and a nine-game victory tour in packed stadiums produced record gate receipts and attendance figures.” Additionally, sources show that the U.S. men’s team hasn’t been playing nearly as well as they have in the past, and that they don’t come close to the women’s team international successes—for the second Olympic season in a row, the men’s under-23 team did not qualify, while the women’s team is headed to their second straight Olympics.

The Federation projected that the women’s team would have a net gain of about $5 million in 2017, compared to the projected $1 million net loss from the men’s team. So why, aside from gender, does the more successful women’s team make four times less than the men’s team? In a statement released by the players and their lawyer, 2015 FIFA women’s player of the year, Carli Lloyd, said: “We have been quite patient over the years with the belief that the federation would do the right thing and compensate us fairly.”

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said goalkeeper Hope Solo. “We are the best in the world, have three World Cup championships, four Olympic championships, and the U.S.M.N.T. get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships.”

“Equal Pay for Equal Work”

Filing a federal complaint was a bold move, but the women’s team thought it was a necessary one. In a Tweet posted by Becky Sauerbrunn on March 31, 2016, she writes: “Five players signed the complaint, but the decision to file was whole-heartedly supported by the entire team. #equalplayequalpay #the gals”

As far as America has come in regard to discrimination in all shapes and forms, it may surprise some that situations like this continue to arise. The EEOC will be investigating the complaint to determine whether the U.S. women’s soccer team will be owed additional compensation.

U.S. Soccer responded on March 31 with the following statement: “We understand the Women’s National Team Players Association is filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against U.S. Soccer. While we have not seen this complaint and can’t comment on the specifics of it, we are disappointed about this action. We have been a world leader in women’s soccer and are proud of the commitment we have made to building the women’s game in the United States over the past 30 years.”

The women’s team is not seeking to make more than the men’s team—rather, the players stress that what they seek is equality, something many working women have been trying to achieve for years.

Unequal pay is just one of many forms of workplace discrimination. What is important to take away from this issue is that women are gaining consciousness of wage gaps and are losing patience. However, they are not giving up—instead, they’re speaking up. It is crucial for businesses to evaluate their compensation structure, as well as their culture, in order to protect themselves from discrimination claims. Happy and motivated employees make for better business, and equality is necessary for a flourishing workplace environment.

Check out these case studies on AirBnb and Namely. They have successfully incorporated employment law compliance training programs with LawRoom.

In a segment of NBC’s Today, Hope Solo said: “In this day and age, it’s about equality. It’s about equal rights. It’s about equal pay. We’re pushing for that. We believe now the time is right…”

What the result of the complaint and investigation will be remains unknown. The team will be participating in the Olympics held in Brazil this summer, starting on August 3.

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Nicoleta Leontiades
Nicoleta Leontiades is an Instructional Writer at EverFi—assisting in drafting, editing, and customizing content for the company's courseware. With a BA in English Literature and predominantly a creative writer at heart, she enjoys working on the company blog and expanding her voice by researching and writing about a variety of issues that impact the well-being and rights of students and employees.

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