USWNT players file opening brief in first step toward appealing equal pay ruling

Brad Smith / ISI Photos

On Friday, the Olympics officially began when Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron at the opening ceremonies.

On the same day, 28 current and former U.S. women’s national team players filed their opening brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s the latest step in a long battle for equal pay stemming from the players’ lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

While the brief makes numerous arguments, one is threaded throughout the 79-page document. The players argue that Judge Gary Klausner — who previously decided on the case in May 2020 — did not consider how the rate of pay includes the USWNT’s compensation for both the number of competitions played and their performance at those competitions. In short, in order for the USWNT to earn more money than the USMNT, they had to outperform the men every single time.

Within that framework, the USWNT players are arguing that they were not offered the same rate of pay as stipulated by the Equal Pay Act.

“The law is clear: under the Equal Pay Act, an employer must provide its male and female employees with the same rate of pay — meaning equal pay for equal work,” Nicole Sarharsky, a member of the players’ legal team, said in a press release from the players. “This is what the players are asking for — all of which is within their legal rights. It’s as simple as that.”

The brief also asks that the Ninth Circuit reverse Judge Klausner’s decision and send the case back to the district level to be heard at trial in front of a jury.

The USWNT’s legal team argues that the judge ignored evidence of gender discrimination from U.S. Soccer that wouldn’t have allowed the Equal Pay Act claim to decide the Title VII claim. That evidence, they say, would have potentially allowed for a jury to rule for the players on Title VII grounds, regardless of the outcome of the EPA claim.