U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Proves They Can Win On and Off the Field: Judge Grants Class Action Status in Their Gender Discrimination Lawsuit

The disparity between the men and women’s national soccer teams is quite shocking. Each player on the U.S. Women’s National Team, according to documents obtained by The Guardian, could receive about $260,000 in maximum earnings for winning the Women’s World Cup. Each player on the U.S. Men’s National Team, however, could have earned nearly $1 million if the club had won the World Cup. That is nearly four times more than their female counterparts.

Many players on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team have been outspoken about their efforts to be paid as much as the men’s team for years. In March, however, the women’s team decided to come together to take some official action.

On International Women’s Day, all 28 members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team filed suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (“USSF”), the governing body for soccer in the United States, alleging gender discrimination. The squad purported that, despite their superior performance, they have been “consistently paid less money than their male counterparts.”

In September, the group filed a class certification motion seeking to include any woman who had trained or played with the national team over a multi-year period specified in the lawsuit. Class action lawsuits allow plaintiffs to band together and form a united front; and a favorable judgment can benefit all of the plaintiffs who split the proceeds. 

Obtaining class certification is no easy task. In fact, it is often one of the biggest obstacles in class action lawsuits. Under Federal Rule 23, plaintiffs seeking to certify a class “must plead and prove: (1) an adequate class definition, (2) ascertainability, (3) numerosity, (4) commonality, (5) typicality, (6) adequacy of representation, and (7) at least one of the requirements in Rule 23(b), namely: (a) separate adjudications will create a risk of decisions that are inconsistent with or dispositive of other class members’ claims, (b) declaratory or injunctive relief is appropriate based on the defendant’s acts with respect to the class generally, or (c) common questions predominate and a class action is superior to individual actions.” Pleading and proving each of these elements is extremely difficult, and many class actions are unable to get past this hurdle.

Nevertheless, they persisted.” Last Friday, a California District Court granted their motion and ruled that the members of the U.S. women’s team can pursue their claims as a class action. Since obtaining class certification is one of the biggest obstacles in class action action lawsuits, this decision is a huge win for the team.

In granting class status, the judge “essentially rejected USSF’s claims that many of the women named in the lawsuit had earned more than their top-earning male counterparts over the same period.” The judge went as far to say that USSF’s argument could yield an ‘absurd result.”

Representatives from the team are thrilled with the decision. Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the players, said that “this is a historic step forward in the struggle to achieve equal pay.” Another rep stated that they are “so pleased that the Court has recognized USSF’s ongoing discrimination against women players— rejecting USSF’s tired arguments that women must work twice as hard and accept lesser working conditions to get paid the same as men.”

Still, the USSF is not backing down. The organization has maintained that the men’s and women’s teams are paid differently due to differences in their collective bargaining agreements and refuse all allegations of gender discrimination.

Although there is still a big fight ahead, the USSF should be worried. There is strong public support for the women’s cause, which was evident following the team’s victory in the World Cup when chants of “equal pay” reverberated from the bleachers of the Stade de Lyon in France. Several lawmakers have also backed the U.S. women’s efforts. Most importantly, however, this group of stars have proved that they can win on and off the field.

Image Credit: NYTimes

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