US Soccer pushes to dismiss equal pay complaint from female players

Alex Morgan addresses gender inequality, Zika virus
Alex Morgan addresses gender inequality, Zika virus

Since five members of the U.S. women's soccer team filed a complaint earlier this year alleging pay discrimination, the U.S. Soccer Federation has disputed their claims in media interviews and statements.

On Tuesday, the governing body issued its most comprehensive rebuke in a 20-page letter filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency responsible for investigating the players' allegations.

The letter insists that those claims are "false," and that members of the women's team not only receive equitable pay, but in some cases are paid more than the top-earning members of the men's team.

Composed by the federation's legal firm in the matter, Latham & Watkins LLP, the letter reiterates support for the women's team as it attacks their evidence of a pay gap.

"The suggestion that U.S. Soccer has been anything other than strongly supportive of the [women's national team] is deeply disappointing and inaccurate," the letter reads.

Pay disparities, according to the federation, are not the result of gender bias, but a trio of factors: higher revenue produced by the men's team; the decision made by the women's team to choose a salary and benefits instead of a bonus structure; and the timing of collective bargaining agreements negotiated by each team separately.

The women's team also has a "pay equity" clause in its contract, which is meant to create parity between the teams, their compensation and their respective share of game revenue.

The federation also alleges that, from 2012 to 2015, 14 of the highest-earning soccer players on both rosters were women. They earned an average of $695,269 during that four-year period, or 2.2% less than the average male U.S. soccer player in that same group. Among the 50-highest earning players, 23 were women who earned nearly more than $35,000 than the average male player in the same cohort.

Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer representing the women, criticized the federation's response in a statement to Mashable.

"The USSF letter is shameful. It compares men who play many fewer games than the women over the same period of time and then claims the discrimination is not that great," Kessler said. "It's time for the USSF to end its illegal and demeaning treatment of these women."

The different competition schedules, compensation structures and bargaining agreements between the two teams makes it difficult for the casual sports fan to evaluate and compare potential disparities.

In their EEOC complaint, for example, members of the women's team alleged making four times less than the men's team. They pointed to an annual $72,000 salary and $1,350 bonus for each victory, contrasting that with the potential for men to make a minimum of $100,000 annually, even while losing.

SEE ALSO: U.S. Soccer star Carli Lloyd takes on women's wage gap in New York Times op-ed

The federation did argue that disparities between per diem expenses were likely temporary; the amounts were previously identical before the men's team negotiated a new contract.

Beyond disputing the discrimination claims, the federation devoted several passages of the letter to its financial and professional support of the women's team and their fledgling professional league.

At times the letter also seems to imply that the women's team is lucky, or should be grateful for their treatment:

The letter is the latest development in increasingly contentious contract negotiations between the female players and U.S. Soccer. The team is scheduled to compete in this summer's Olympics for its fifth gold medal, but have indicated they are prepared to strike before the games.

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