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U.S. Soccer, Women’s Team at Odds Over $67 Million in Back Pay

Feb. 21, 2020, 4:17 PM

U.S. women’s national team members and the U.S. Soccer Federation have filed competing motions in Los Angeles federal court seeking pretrial wins on claims that women are paid less than men’s team players despite their greater on-field success.

Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and 24 other women’s players said theirs is the “rare case” alleging pay discrimination where summary judgment on liability is proper without a trial.

The discriminatory pay rates are contained in collective bargaining agreements U.S. Soccer made with the teams, and the federation hasn’t offered any evidence showing the women’s lesser pay is the result of a factor other than sex, they said. The federation’s own witnesses, including President Carlos Cordeiro, “admitted that the women are not paid equally,” they said.

An expert witness for the soccer players calculated a back pay damages award of $66,722,148, which doesn’t include any potential punitive damages.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has enough proof to hold U.S. Soccer liable for wage bias under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the women said. The court should decide those legal questions so the jury can focus at trial on the issue of damages for the pay bias, and the women’s claims of sex discrimination in other terms and conditions of their employment, including disparate travel and playing surfaces, the players said.

They also filed a separate motion Thursday seeking to block the federation’s three proposed expert witnesses from testifying at trial. The legal opinions, “accounting exercises,” and “risk analysis” exception the experts are expected to offer are “irrelevant to the issues at hand,” contrary to applicable legal standards, and all but certain to confuse the jury, the women said.

But the federation said it didn’t pay higher wages to men’s team players and that the women’s and men’s teams don’t work “in the same establishment” or “perform equal work” requiring “equal skill, effort, and responsibility” under “similar working conditions” for purposes of pay bias laws. That echoes arguments it has made since the suit was filed in March 2019. Factors other than sex, including compromises made by women’s and men’s players in their respective collective bargaining processes, and revenue differentials, account for any differences in pay, U.S. Soccer said.

It also seeks summary judgment on the women’s claims relating to issues other than pay.

Women’s team goalie Hope Solo is separately suing the federation in the Northern District of California. She and U.S. Soccer filed a proposed joint stipulation Thursday seeking to stay further proceedings in her case pending the outcome in the class suit.

Trial in the class suit is scheduled to begin May 5.

Winston and Strawn LLP represents the women players. Seyfarth Shaw LLP represents U.S. Soccer.

The case is Morgan v. U.S. Soccer Fed’n, Inc., C.D. Cal., No. 2:19-cv-01717, cross-motions for summary judgment 2/20/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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