Last week, five members of the United States women’s soccer team (the “Claimants”) filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge against their employer, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) claiming wage discrimination under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act.
The Claimants contend that, because of their sex, USSF pays them nearly four times less than their counterparts are on the USSF men’s soccer team. They point out that they have won multiple Olympic and World Cup championships, whereas the men’s team has been consistently mediocre in recent years. The Claimants insist that, given their hard work and success, they are due at least equal compensation as their male counterparts.
As a refresher, Title VII and the Equal Pay Act both prohibit wage discrimination on the basis of sex, but their standards differ slightly. To advance a Title VII wage discrimination claim, the Claimants will need to show that (1) they are paid less than male employees who are “similarly situated in all relevant aspects” and who “perform the same type of tasks” as they do and (2) that their employer, the USSF, intended to discriminate against them. The Equal Pay Act has no requirement of intent to discriminate, but the similarity requirement is heightened: rather than simply showing a “similarly situated” male coworker, to prevail on an Equal Pay Act claim, the Claimants must identify a male who was paid more for “equal work on jobs the performance of which require equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions.”
So, will the Claimants score an easy goal with this case? It remains to be seen. The Claimants will clearly argue that the men’s team members are proper legal comparators, as both male and female soccer players for USSF are national team members who compete in professional games and championships such as the Olympics and World Cup.
The USSF has not yet told its side of the story, and it is likely to paint a different picture. For example, the USSF has stated in the media that the men’s soccer team garners twice the attendance, higher television ratings, and greater revenue than the women’s team. Moreover, the men and women’s teams have separate collective bargaining agreements that each team negotiated and which govern each team’s employment, including compensation. Further, the USSF will likely argue that certain elements of compensation are outside its control. For example, although the women’s World Cup monetary prizes are lower than the men’s, the prize amounts are determined not by the USSF but by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing body of world soccer (which is embroiled in its own scandals).