US District Judge Certifies USNWT Case as a Class Action Lawsuit
In a strong ruling for the women players on the US national soccer team, Sports Illustrated reported on November 8, 2019 that the players’ lawsuit for pay equity would be certified as a class action. The judge also approved class representative status for Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and Carli Lloyd.
The players had proposed three different classes:
- The players on the USWNT (US Women’s National Team) who would be on the team when the litigation ends – which could be until 2022 or 2023. This class is aimed at benefitting from any court order changing the way in which US Soccer pays its players. The focus on this class is on injunctive relief and not monetary damages
- A class for back pay and punitive damages. This class would cover all players who have been on the team (which rotates players over time) from 2/4/15 through the date the class is certified. The members of the class would receive funds if they won their claim based on a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII precludes employers from paying employees less based on their gender. Damages through this class claim would be back pay (the amount lost due to the lower pay) and punitive damages
- A class based on the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This class would cover players on the team from 3/8/2016 to the present. The FLSA includes the Equal Pay Act which forbids employers from discriminating (providing lower pay) based on demographic characteristics such as gender.
The federal judge approved all three of these classes because they all met the following class certification criteria:
- The number of members of the class was too high to make joining individual claims practical.
- There are questions of law or fact common to the members of the proposed class.
- The “claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the proposed class.”
- The representatives could be trusted to adequately and fairly protect the interests of the class members.
Part of the basis for approving the classes was the judge’s emphasis that the players “have offered evidentiary proof that they had they been paid on the same terms as [the men’s players], they would have earned more money per game and, as a result, more money per year.” The judge’s finding on this point indicates that he found the players claim to be based on fact and data – though a final determination on the issue of employment discrimination will have to be made by a jury.
The judge further found that there was a likelihood that the players would be harmed in a similar way – again.
The judge rejected some of the defenses US Soccer raised including that some of the players on the women’s team have been paid more than the males who earned the most. The judge deemed this point irrelevant and without case support. The federal judge wrote, “that it would be an ‘absurd result’ if women could only negate ‘obvious disparity” in pay by working twice as many hours.
The judge also agreed with the concerns of the women players that they have had to work under “unequal working condition” including less safe surfaces and less chartered flights.
The class certification means that additional women players will now be added to the lawsuit.
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