Five stars from the World Cup-winning U.S. women's national team have accused the U.S. Soccer Federation of wage discrimination in an action filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and Hope Solo maintain in the EEOC filing that they are paid nearly four times less than their male counterparts on the U.S. men's national team, based on U.S. Soccer's 2015 financial report. The filing was announced Thursday in a statement from the law firm representing the players.
"The numbers speak for themselves," Solo said in the statement. "We are the best in the world, have three World Cup Championships, four Olympic Championships, and the USMNT get paid more just to show up than we get paid to win major championships."
The union representing the players is currently involved in a legal dispute with U.S. Soccer over the terms of their collective bargaining agreement. The federation filed a lawsuit this year seeking to clarify that its contract with the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team Players Association runs through the Rio Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time. That case is pending.
Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, one of the attorneys representing the players, claimed that the tenor of the negotiations over the CBA created the need for the women to act in hopes of ending what they say is the "discriminatory and unfair treatment" they have endured for years.
"The reality is that this team is more valuable to the USSF than the men's team has been. That's what the facts show," Kessler said on a conference call with reporters. "And they would be justified in asking for more than the men are receiving. But the first step that they are seeking is equal treatment. That should be an easy step for the USSF to take."
U.S. Soccer issued a statement saying it had not seen this complaint and couldn't comment on specifics, but added it is "disappointed" with the action.
"We have been a world leader in women's soccer and are proud of the commitment we have made to building the women's game in the United States over the past 30 years," the statement said.
The top players on the women's team are paid about $72,000 a year by U.S. Soccer, along with bonuses, to play in a minimum of 20 exhibitions per year — a salary far less than the men, the complaint says. And unlike the men, they are awarded bonuses only if they win those matches, it says.
The players have a potential to earn $99,000 if they win all 20 exhibitions, while their male counterparts would earn $263,320 for the same feat, the document claims.
Citing another example of disparity, the complaint says that the women are paid $30,000 each for making the World Cup team, while the men are paid $68,750.
The U.S. women won the World Cup last year in Canada with a 5-2 victory in the final against Japan. The team earned $2 million for winning the tournament, according to documents. The U.S. men's team conversely earned $9 million the year before at the World Cup in Brazil after going 1-2-1 and losing in the round of 16.
The success of the women's national team means the women also participate in more games, practices, events and other appearances than the male players.
"There are no legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for this gross disparity of wages, nor can it be explained away by any bona fide seniority, merit or incentive system or any other factor other than sex," said the complaint.
The federation pays the men and women equally for qualifying for the Olympics and making the roster for the event.
The EEOC investigates claims of discrimination on merit. There is no timetable for resolution of the matter. Federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information.
"I think that we've proven our worth over the years. Just coming off of a World Cup win, the pay disparity between the men and women is just too large. And we want to continue to fight," Lloyd said on NBC's "Today" show.
Many players on the national team have become increasingly vocal about gender equity in the sport, something that came to light in advance of last year's World Cup. A group of players led by Abby Wambach filed a complaint in Canada about the artificial turf playing surface, noting the men's World Cup is played on natural grass.
"This is a fight that we are going to have to continue to fight from here on forward," Solo said. "I don't see it getting any easier, but it is something we are committed to. And it's not just in the sports world, it's everywhere you look."
The U.S. women, who have already qualified for this summer's Olympics in Brazil, are currently in Florida training for a pair of exhibition games against Colombia.