The judge overseeing the United States women’s national soccer team’s gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer granted the players class status on Friday, an important victory for the women that appeared to support the claim that they are subjected to unequal working conditions and unequal pay when they played games for their country.
The players had sought class-action status in September by arguing that the working conditions and compensation they were contesting applied not only to the 28 named plaintiffs, but also to any woman who had appeared in a national team camp or game over the multiyear period specified in the suit.
In granting class status, the judge effectively rejected U.S. Soccer’s argument that, because many of the women had earned more than the top-earning men’s players over that period, there could be no discrimination under federal law.
“Defendant cites no case law to support this premise,” the judge, R. Gary Klausner of United States District Court for the Central District of California, wrote in his decision.
Klausner went even further, though, writing that agreeing with U.S. Soccer’s argument defending the current pay structure could yield an “absurd result” in which a woman could be paid half as much as a man as long as she overcame the disparity by working twice as many hours.
The ruling could push the team and the players to restart efforts to find an out-of-court resolution to the lawsuit. When U.S. Soccer’s president, Carlos Cordeiro, introduced the new coach of the women’s national team at a news conference in New York late last month, he strongly hinted that he would be open to such a resolution.
“I’d say we’re still very committed to resolving this, and in a fair way,” he said, adding, “Give us some more time, but that’s where were hopefully headed, in that direction.”
In August, Klausner had surprised both sides by setting a May 2020 trial date, an accelerated timeline that could see the team’s bid for equal pay become entangled with its preparations for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
A spokeswoman for the players, Molly Levinson, praised Friday’s ruling.
“We are so pleased that the court has recognized U.S.S.F.’s ongoing discrimination against women players — rejecting U.S.S.F.’s tired arguments that women must work twice as hard and accept lesser working conditions to get paid the same as men,” Levinson said.
U.S. Soccer did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the judge’s decision.