Twenty-eight members of the world champion United States women’s soccer team significantly escalated their long-running fight with the country’s soccer federation over pay equity and working conditions, filing a gender discrimination lawsuit on Friday.
The suit, in United States District Court in Los Angeles, comes only three months before the team will begin defense of its Women’s World Cup title at this summer’s tournament in France. In their filing and a statement released by the team, the 28 players described “institutionalized gender discrimination” that they say has existed for years.
The discrimination, the athletes said, affects not only their paychecks but also where they play and how often, how they train, the medical treatment and coaching they receive, and even how they travel to matches.
The players involved — stars like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd and their teammates — include some of the most accomplished and best-known female athletes in the world, members of a team that has been a leading force in women’s sports for more than a generation.
The players’ continuing battle with U.S. Soccer, which is not only their employer, but also the federation that governs the sport in America, has thrust them to the forefront of a broader fight for equality in women’s sports. In recent years, players, teams and even athletes in other sports — American hockey gold medalists, Canadian soccer pros, W.N.B.A. players — have reached out to the United States players and their union for guidance in their efforts to win similar gains in pay and working conditions.
“I think to be on this team is to understand these issues,” Rapinoe said in a telephone interview. “And I think we’ve always — dating back to forever — been a team that stood up for itself and fought hard for what it felt it deserved and tried to leave the game in a better place.”
Friday’s legal action is the latest flash point in a yearslong fight for pay equity and equal treatment by the national team, which has long chafed — first privately, but increasingly publicly — about the compensation, support and working conditions it receives while representing U.S. Soccer. The women’s players argue that they are required to play more games than the men’s team, that they win more of them, and yet still receive less pay from the federation.