On May 1, 2020, a federal judge dismissed the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s (USWNT) claim under the federal Equal Pay Act. Judge Gary Klausner of the U.S. District Court for Central California in Los Angeles tossed the women’s claim that they made less compensation than their male counterparts. Judge Klausner ultimately did allow the women’s claims for disparate treatment regarding their medical support, housing and travel to proceed to trial – currently set for June 16, 2020 in Los Angeles.
According to Judge Klausner, the women had previously been offered the same ‘pay-to-play’ structure as the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team but rejected it in favor of alternate benefits. The Judge stated that the women could not retroactively ask for the same pay they previously rejected.
Although the ruling may be surprising to some, the USWNT made use of collective bargaining to obtain benefits they bargained for, and, as a result, the women were not entitled to change their pay structure after-the-fact. Collective bargaining is a negotiation of wages and other conditions of employment by an organized body of employees (a union) by using arm’s-length negotiation to obtain sought benefits. By specifically bargaining for their compensation, the women’s team forfeited their right to claim their pay was unequal to the men’s team’s compensation structure.
The USWNT agreement includes, among other things, medical and dental insurance, guaranteed annual salaries, paid child-care assistance, paid pregnancy and parental leave, severance benefits, multiple bonuses – benefits that have not been provided to the men’s team, according to U.S. Soccer.
Ultimately, for the remaining claims, the USWNT will need to prove that U.S. Soccer discriminated against them on the basis of their gender. They now have the opportunity to convince a jury that their working conditions, travel conditions and support services were substandard as compared to the men’s team.
“We believe in the fundamentals of equal pay, but it seems the trial judge got this ruling right. A party cannot negotiate and obtain the compensation they wanted only to complain that it was unfair after-the-fact. The Equal Pay Act claims were simply not viable in reviewing the parties’ negotiation history. Whether U.S. Soccer discriminated against the USWNT because of their gender regarding the womens’ working conditions is still to be determined. And, we will certainly be watching the developments,” commented Ronnie Bitman, managing partner of Bitman O’Brien Morat, PLLC.
If you have questions about sports law or employment law, contact Bitman O’ Brien & Morat, PLLC at 407. 815.3110 or visit bitman-law.com.