Unwrapping the USWNT's equal-pay filing and what it means

Michael Chow/USA TODAY Sports

Hope Solo (1) and defenders Becky Sauerbrunn (4), Meghan Klingenberg (22) and Ali Krieger (11), after a win over Nigeria in the 2015 Women's World Cup.

The U.S. Women's National team has been mired in legal action for the better part of 2016. The players are fighting for equal pay, and the result has been lawsuits, collective bargaining agreement (CBA) arguments and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints. Got questions? So did we.

Q: What's the latest move in this saga?

A: Last week, members of the World Cup-winning USWNT filed a wage discrimination claim to the EEOC. The players argue that the U.S. Soccer Federation pays the men's team significantly more than it pays the women for the same work, even though the women are vastly more successful than the men.

Q: Is this related to the litigation between the USWNT and the federation in February?

A: Yes, and no.

In February, the federation sued the union representing the women's team, demanding its CBA remain in effect. That's because Rich Nichols, the executive director of the women's players union, allegedly terminated the team's CBA at the end of 2015. That CBA had been agreed upon in 2013 by the union's former representative, John Langel, whom the women replaced with Nichols in 2014.

By allegedly terminating the CBA, Nichols nullified a no-strike clause that the deal contained, which said no player shall "authorize, encourage, or engage in any strike, work stoppage, (or) slowdown." That means Nichols could use a strike as leverage against the federation in negotiations, should he so choose. In an Olympic year, this is a powerful weapon.

So, the heart of that lawsuit is to determine whether or not the CBA has been terminated.

The EEOC filing is different. It alleges wage discrimination and should be examined separately from the federation's lawsuit.

While the February lawsuit is arguing the validity of the CBA, the CBA is irrelevant when it comes to the EEOC filing. 

The Equal Pay Act, which was created because of "concern for the weaker bargaining position of women" and passed into law in 1963, protects employees against raw deals that discriminate, among other things.

The Act states that an employer can't use a CBA to justify unequal pay. In fact, any parts of a CBA that provide for unequal pay in violation of the Act "are null and void and of no effect." This means that, regardless of whether the CBA is enforceable, the women's team can challenge its pay even if it agreed to that pay in the CBA.

Q: What about the ratio clause written into the USWNT's CBA?

A: The "Additional Payment if Compensation Ratios Change" provides for a "lump sum payment" to players on the women's team if their share of game revenue is less than the men's share. The revenue included in the calculation includes all income from national team games and tournaments. The clause requires the federation to make the shares equal.

Q: That seems like it could've helped the USWNT. Why didn't they use it?

A:This is where it gets complicated. First, according to Nichols, the CBA is terminated (remember, that's what the federation is arguing against in its February lawsuit). So without this allegedly invalid CBA, the players wouldn't be able to trigger the clause.

The clause also doesn't necessarily solve the "equal pay" arrangement. In addition to compensation, teams receive a myriad of benefits that may also be taken into account. But because the ratio is dependent on the separate revenue brought it by the men and the women and the compensation they receive, the result may leave one team with more revenue and more pay.

Thus, the EEOC complaint is a method they chose to address equal pay.

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