US women's soccer equal pay lawsuit tossed

This story dropped off the radar for quite a while, primarily because the court proceedings have dragged on endlessly, but now we have an initial determination from the judge. The U.S. Soccer Federation was sued last year by the United States women’s soccer team over demands that they be paid the same as the men’s team. As you may recall, after winning the World Cup and returning home to a heroin’s welcome, complete with ticker-tape parades, the team turned the celebrations into public calls for pay equity between the genders. California Central District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner (a Bush 43 appointee) didn’t see it that way, however, and dismissed most of the suit. (NBC News)

A federal judge in Los Angeles on Friday dismissed demands by the United States women’s soccer team for pay equal to that of men’s.

Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the defending World Cup champions, said the plaintiffs would appeal.

“We are shocked and disappointed with today’s decision, but we will not give up our hard work for equal pay,” she said in a statement. “We are confident in our case and steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that girls and women who play this sport will not be valued as lesser just because of their gender. We will appeal and press on.”

The team’s “shocked and disappointed” spokesperson is still focusing on the claim that the women are valued less because of their gender. But that’s unrelated to anything the judge had to say about the majority of the claims being made in this case. He wasn’t denying that the women made less money than their male counterparts. Nor was he arguing about gender equity when it comes to pay scales. He simply pointed out that the women’s team went through extensive negotiations when setting up this arrangement and they’re being paid precisely what they negotiated for.

In his ruling, the judge noted that “they specifically asked for and negotiated a completely different contract than the men’s national team, despite being offered, and rejecting, a similar pay-to-play agreement during the past negotiations.” The men’s team worked out a deal where they would receive less guaranteed pay in exchange for larger bonuses based on performance. By contrast, the women’s team wanted more guaranteed pay upfront with less bonus money on the back end. Had they negotiated for the same deal the men arranged, they would have made considerably more money after winning the championship.

It wasn’t a total loss, however. Judge Klausner did find that the women’s team received unequal travel and accommodations. Apparently, the men’s team got to fly by private jets more often while the women took commercial flights. With that in mind, he’s allowing the suit to move forward if it focuses solely on those aspects of their compensation.

None of these questions appear to address the actual underlying inequality in soccer and most sports. The fact is that women’s soccer, much like the WNBA, generally draws far lower ratings than the men’s league. That means that the league’s revenue is generally always going to be lower so there is less money to spread around. If you want to “fix” the system you need to find a way to get more people to tune in and watch the games. And they might want to take a different approach when it’s time to renegotiate their contract. This really doesn’t seem all that complicated.