In a well-reasoned decision issued on Friday, May 1, 2020, United States District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner, sitting in the Central District of California, gutted most of the equal pay and discrimination claims brought by the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (“WNT”). While the WNT should be commended for its play on the field and for team members serving as role models for girls, the WNT was not an ideal plaintiff.
The Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) provides, in relevant part, that:
No employer…shall discriminate…between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees…at a rate less than the rate at which it pays wages to employees of the opposite sex…for equal work on jobs the performance of which require equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other facts other than sex.
In the lawsuit the United States Soccer Federation (“USSF”) argued, and the Court agreed, that total compensation of the women and men should be compared. It so held because plaintiffs received more than one category of wages, and higher pay in one category of wages can offset lower pay in another category for purposes of the EPA. The evidence before the Court showed that the women’s team earned about $220,000 per game compared $212,000 for the men’s national team (“MNT”). The Court also rejected the WNT’s argument that it would have earned more under the MNT’s collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). “[M]erely comparing what each team would have made under the other team’s CBA is untenable in this case because it ignores the reality that the MNT and WNT bargained for different agreements that reflect different performance, and the WNT explicitly rejected the terms they now seek to retroactively impose on themselves.”
The Court also threw out a large part of the WNT’s sex discrimination claim under Title VII, holding that the WNT’s lacked evidence of pretext, that they were forced to play on inferior field surfaces because of their gender rather than due to financial considerations as proffered by the USSF. The Court did, however, find that the WNT could go to trial over whether they were discriminated against with regard to travel arrangements and medical and training support.
Fame and the groundswell of support for the WNT were simply not enough to get the ball in the net. While the players have much to be commended for, they simply were a poor choice to set legal precedent for equal pay for women.