The U.S. Soccer Federation has formally denied allegations of gender discrimination made by players of the U.S. women's national team.
Twenty-eight members of the current women's player pool filed the lawsuit March 8 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, alleging "institutionalized gender discrimination" that includes unequal pay with their counterparts on the men's national team.
The USSF filed its answer on Monday, about one month before the Women's World Cup. The USSF claims every decision made "with respect to the conduct alleged in the complaint was for legitimate business reasons and not for any discriminatory or other unlawful purpose."
The federation has maintained the differences in pay are the result of different collective bargaining agreements that establish distinct pay structures for the two teams. Those agreements are not public.
U.S. Soccer also maintained in the response that any alleged differences in pay between the men's and women's national teams were not based on gender, but "differences in the aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex."
"There is no legal basis for USSF's claim that it is anything other than a single employer operating both the men's and women's teams -- who face drastically unequal conditions and pay under their shared employer," said Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the national team players who filed the lawsuit. "The USSF cannot justify its violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII by pointing to the teams' separate collective bargaining agreements or any factor other than sex. Even as the most decorated American soccer team in history, USSF treats the women's team as 'less-than' equal compared to their male colleagues. We look forward to a trial next year after the World Cup."
The USSF and the women's team agreed in April 2017 to a collective bargaining agreement through 2021 that gave the players higher pay and better benefits.
The federation claims the allegations do not rise to the level required for punitive damages because there is no evidence of malicious, reckless or fraudulent intent to deny the players their rights.
The lawsuit brought by current national team players is an escalation of a long-simmering dispute over pay and treatment. Five players filed a complaint in 2016 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the federation. The lawsuit effectively ended that EEOC complaint.