Five members of the World Cup champion U.S. women's soccer team filed a wage-discrimination action against U.S. Soccer on Thursday, claiming women players were paid nearly four times less than their male counterparts despite bringing in substantially more money.
Using figures from U.S. Soccer's 2015 financial report, the filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges that while the women's team generated millions more in revenue than the men's team last year, women continue to be paid less for everything from appearances and wins to per diems and sponsorship appearances.
"The numbers speak for themselves," said goalkeeper Hope Solo, who has played 15 years with the U.S. national team. "We are the best in the world, have three World Cup championships, four Olympic championships and the [men] get paid more to show up than we get paid to win major championships."
Joining Solo in the filing were Carli Lloyd, the FIFA world player of the year, co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn, midfielder Megan Rapinoe and forward Alex Morgan. While only five players signed the complaint, they said they were acting on behalf of the entire U.S. women's team.
Thursday's action is not expected to affect their participation in this summer's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, with some players saying privately they intend to play no matter what happens with the complaint.
The EEOC is expected to take up to six months to investigate the chargers. said Eva Cole, a partner at the New York law firm Winston & Strawn, which is representing the women. Among the remedies available to the EEOC are urging a conciliation agreement, or suing U.S. Soccer on behalf of the players, Cole said.
The filing is the second major dispute between the federation and the players. In February U.S. Soccer sued the players' union after a lawyer for the group claimed the women were no longer bound by terms of a collective bargaining agreement that expired in 2012. Since March 2013, the federation and the union have been operating under "a memorandum of understanding" that U.S. Soccer insists was ratified by the players and is still in effect.
According to figures contained in Thursday's filing, members of the women's national team were paid $3,600 a game last year while men could make as much as $17,625 a game, depending on the opponent. With bonuses based on performance, the maximum a woman could make for playing 20 games would be $99,000, some 21/2 times less than what a male player could make.
Yet it was revenue generated by the women's team that was responsible for most of U.S. Soccer's profit last year, with its post-World Cup victory tour turning a projected $429,000 loss for the fiscal year that ended Thursday into a $17.7-million profit.
"The reality is that this team is more valuable to [U.S. Soccer] than the men's team has been. That's what the facts show," said Jeffrey Kessler, co-chairman of Winston & Strawn.
Some of those numbers might be misleading, though, because they largely come from a one-year snapshot that included the women's triumphant World Cup campaign and the start of preparations for the 2016 Olympics. According to a U.S. Soccer spokesman, over the last four years — a period that includes the last men's World Cup — the men's team brought in nearly twice as much revenue as the women's team, although the federation refused to provide specific numbers.
As evidence of its support for women's soccer, the federation touted the $10 million it spent to launch the National Women's Soccer League, which will enter its fourth season this year.
"I have no doubt that we'll get a deal done and that we'll get back to focusing on the game," said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. "We'll get a deal done that's fair to the players. That will involve a process of give and take.
"We've got a team that we're very proud of. We're committed to many of the issues that they've raised and we'll figure out a way to get to those points with them. And we'll get past this period. I have no doubt about that."