The U.S. women’s national soccer team filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer

The 28 players accused the federation of years of what they labeled “institutionalized gender discrimination."

U.S. women's soccer national team
The United States women's national soccer team before a SheBelieves Cup women's soccer match against England, March 2, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo / Mark Zaleski) –The Associated Press

All 28 members of the world champion U.S. women’s national team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation on Friday, a sudden and significant escalation of a long-running fight over pay equity and working conditions that comes only months before the team will begin defense of its Women’s World Cup title.

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the 28 players accused the federation — their employer and the governing body for soccer in the United States — of years of what they labeled “institutionalized gender discrimination.” The issues, the athletes said, affected not only their paychecks but also where they played and how often, how they trained, the medical treatment and coaching they received, and even how they traveled to matches.

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The lawsuit’s points mirrored many issues raised in a wage-discrimination complaint filed by five U.S. players with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016. The lack of a resolution, or even any noticeable action, on that now three-year-old complaint led the players to seek, and receive, a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC in February. The decision to take their case to federal court effectively ends the EEOC complaint.

The players — a group that includes stars like Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan but also reserve players — have requested class action status. They are seeking to represent any current or former players who have represented the women’s national team since Feb. 4, 2015 — a cohort that could grow to include dozens more players — and are requesting back pay and damages and other relief: a potential award that could reach into the millions of dollars.

U.S. Soccer, which had not seen the complaint, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The players’ action is the latest flash point in a yearslong fight for pay equity and equal treatment by the national team, which has long chafed about its compensation, support and working conditions while representing U.S. Soccer. The women’s players argue that they are required to play more games than the men’s team, win more of them, and yet still receive lesser pay from the federation.

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Direct comparisons between the compensation of the men’s and women’s teams can be complicated, however. Each team has its own collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer, and among the major differences are pay structure: the men receive higher bonuses when they play for the United States, but are paid only when they make the team, while the women receive guaranteed salaries supplemented by smaller match bonuses.