United States forward Megan Rapinoe celebrates scoring her team's first goal during the France 2019 Women's World Cup quarterfinal match between France and the United States on June 28, 2019, at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. (Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images)
While the U.S. women's soccer team continues to defend its World Cup title following their quarterfinal victory against France on Friday, it's also in the middle of an ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation over inequities between the women's and men's national teams.
The suit, filed in March, argues that the women have faced “institutionalized gender discrimination” for years, which has led to smaller paychecks and worse overall treatment than their male counterparts.
The women's team has dominated international competition for decades. It is the reigning World Cup champion, its third title since 1991, a period during which it has finished in the top 3 in every single World Cup. In the Olympics, the team has won four out of the last six gold medals going back to 1996.
The men's team, on the other hand, failed to qualify for the most recent World Cup and Olympics and has not finished in the top 3 in either competition for decades.
KQED's Brian Watt sat down with Beth Hillman, president of Mills College in Oakland. Hillman, a former law professor and expert on gender equity, said the lawsuit is based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, as well as the Equal Pay Act.
Below are some highlights from Watt's conversation with Hillman. You can listen to the full interview by clicking the play button at the top of the page.
On U.S. Soccer's argument that there is not pay discrimination:
The U.S. Soccer Federation actually argues that they're not violating this because the women and the men are not similarly situated. That is, the men play a game that while it's the same in terms of rules and length of time and international competition, the revenues and the high profile and the market conditions of the men's sport are different than the women's sport.
On how the members of the women's team have used their on-field success to move this issue forward over the years:
This is an amazing story of the women who are leading the charge, and there's a veritable wave of others who are behind them in this case. There are four headliners who persist from a 2016 suit that was filed with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. That's Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn. They're architects of not just one lawsuit, but a multi-year legal strategy. And that's an effort to try to realize the hopes of women who for decades have been achieving more prominence in international sports. They're rejecting an idea that they should be grateful just for the chance to play even if they only get a fraction of what men make.
Billie Jean King talked about this decades ago. She said, "Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on top, too."
This issue is not just playing out in soccer. It's not just playing out in the U.S. The Spanish women's soccer team, the team that the U.S. just defeated earlier this week, they actually rose up and requested a new coach in opposition some years ago, plus women in other sports have taken this up.
Venus and Serena Williams have been the heirs to Billie Jean King's advocacy around pay equity and tennis. And women have had pay equity since 2007 in terms of prize money in the major tournament.
On how she thinks the lawsuit will play out:
Interestingly this week, U.S. Soccer agreed to mediation after the World Cup ends, which should the women win, should they progress far enough in the tournament with the kind of publicity and viewership and sponsorship success that people expect, it would put the women in a good place to potentially settle this suit.
To be honest, the history of women's pay as compared to men's pay does not give one a lot of reason for optimism, and these pay disparities are the worst at the highest income levels. So in many ways, I think this could set a flag out for where pay equity needs to go because it's involving some of the most high profile and highly paid women athletes who are out there. So I think I do have hope that this could move things in the right direction.