Three months before kickoff for the Women's World Cup, players for the U.S. women's national team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit Friday against the U.S. Soccer Federation.
All 28 members of the team were named as plaintiffs in the case filed in United States District Court in Los Angeles, and they are seeking class-action status over "institutionalized gender discrimination" toward the team. The lawsuit was filed under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
"Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts," the lawsuit said. "This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players -- with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions."
The U.S. women's national team won the World Cup in 2015 and will open defense of the title at the 2019 Women's World Cup, which begins in France on June 7.
"I don't know if there was a tipping point, but the feeling was that this was the next best step for us to put us in the best possible position to continue to fight for what we believe is right and what the law recognizes," midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. "And to try to achieve equality under the law, equal working conditions, equal working pay. It goes far beyond equal pay into the working conditions as well."
The players are seeking equitable pay and treatment, in addition to damages including back pay.
"We believe it is our duty to be the role models that we've set out to be and fight to what we know we legally deserve," forward Christen Press told The Associated Press. "And hopefully in that way it inspires women everywhere."
Among complaints about wages, the lawsuit also notes issues with where and how often the women's team played, medical treatment and coaching. The class-action request would allow any players for the team since February 2015 to join the case.
"Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that. We believe that fighting for gender equality in sports is a part of that responsibility. As players, we deserved to be paid equally for our work, regardless of our gender." USWNT forward Alex Morgan
Rapinoe said it was "really important" to have the full team represented in the lawsuit.
"It puts a face and a name to each one of these claims of discrimination," she said. "But it also shows incredible unity and togetherness from our team that is really important in this time. Just that idea of women supporting women and backing each other, creating something together that is much larger and more impactful than they could on their own."
The U.S. Women's National Team Players Association was not party to the lawsuit, but in a statement said it "supports the plaintiffs' goal of eliminating gender-based discrimination by USSF." The U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association, which represents the men's national team players, expressed its full support of the women's players efforts as well.
The U.S. Soccer Federation said it does not comment on pending litigation. The USSF has maintained in the past that much of the pay disparity between the men's and women's teams results from separate collective bargaining agreements.
"Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that," forward Alex Morgan said in a statement. "We believe that fighting for gender equality in sports is a part of that responsibility. As players, we deserved to be paid equally for our work, regardless of our gender."
The women's team set up its compensation structure, which included a guaranteed salary rather than a pay-for-play model like the men, in the last labor contract. The players also earn salaries -- paid by the federation -- for playing in the National Women's Soccer League.
In 2016, five members of the U.S. women's national soccer team filed a similar complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
That filing noted that, despite the women's team generating nearly $20 million more revenue in 2015 than the U.S. men's team, the women are paid about a quarter of what the men earn. No action was taken on that complaint, and Friday's filing will effectively end the EEOC's involvement.
The team took the fight into contract negotiations and struck a collective bargaining agreement in 2017 that runs through 2021.
The players received raises in base pay and bonuses as well as better provisions for travel and accommodations, including increased per diems. It also gave the players some control of certain licensing and marketing rights. Specific details about the deal were not disclosed.
ESPN's Graham Hays contributed to this report.