Nov. 8 (UPI) -- The United States Women's National Team players' gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation was granted class status Friday, meaning players from 2015 to the present day can be represented.
Judge Gary Klausner, of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, granted the class-action motion. Soccer stars Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn were appointed as representatives of the class.
"This is a historic step forward in the struggle to achieve equal pay," the players' spokeswoman, Molly Levinson, said in a statement.
Originally, 28 members of the women's team filed a lawsuit in March, accusing the federation of "institutionalized gender discrimination," which the players say adversely impacted their wages and the way they train and compete. The complaint also addresses promotion, support and development for the women's games.
The players' class can now include all players who are on the United States Women's National Team at the date of the final judgement or date of the resolution of any appeals. The class also includes all players who were on the team at any time from Feb. 4, 2015, through the date of class certification and all players who were on the team at any time from March 8, 2016, through the present.
"We are so pleased that the court has recognized [the federation's] ongoing discrimination against women players -- rejecting [the federation's] tired arguments that women must work twice as hard and accept lesser working conditions to get paid the same as men," Levinson said.
"We are calling on [president] Carlos Cordeiro to lead [the federation] and demand an end to the unlawful discrimination against women now."
The class designation for the case could award players injunctive relief if they are a member of the team on the day of the final judgment or appeal. It also could provide back pay and punitive damages for past players.
The federation has repeatedly pushed back at the players' claims, arguing that the women have been paid more than the men on their respective national teams. Mediation talks between the federation and players broke down in August. The players filed the motion for class certification Sept. 11.
The federation filed a brief Sept. 30, citing the salaries of Morgan, Rapinoe, Lloyd and Sauerbrunn, saying each player earned more money than the highest-paid men's national team player during a nearly six-year span. The federation said the players suffered "no injury" as a result of their salaries.
The players also claimed they were denied "equal playing, training and travel conditions" as the men's national team players, citing the quality of their playing surfaces. The federation said the women's team has played on rough turf four times since Dec. 17, 2015.
The players responded in October, saying the federation distorted the salary figures submitted in its brief. The players also submitted figures showing what their salaries would have been if they were covered by the men's collective bargaining agreement, instead of the women's. The salaries would have been three times higher.
Morgan and Lloyd said the women's team played 13 of 62 domestic games on artificial turn from Jan. 1, 2014, through Dec. 31, 2017, while the men's did did not play on that surface during the same time period.
"The failure to provide the [U.S. women's team] with equal working conditions is a real (not abstract) injury which affects each [player] in a personal and individual way," Klausner said in his decision.
"Plaintiffs [players] have also offered sufficient proof of this injury. Indeed, [players] have submitted declarations establishing that [U.S. women's team] players were subject to discriminatory working conditions."
Klausner also said the federation cited "no case law to support" the premise that there could be no discrimination under federal law due to the women earning more than the top earning men over their nearly six-year time frame.
Klausner said that agreeing with the federation's argument defending the current pay structure "would yield an absurd result," meaning an "employer who pays a woman $10 per hour and a man $20 per hour would not violate the EPA [Equal Pay Act] ... as long as the woman negated the obvious disparity by working twice as many hours."
The federation must produce a list of the class to the players' lawyers within two weeks. The players and the federation have a trial set for May 5. The parties can still work out an out-of-court resolution.
New women's team manager Vlatko Andonovski said he respects the drive of the players when asked about the lawsuit at his first news conference Oct. 28.
"I'm very respectful of the drive, of the push that the players have," Andonovski said. "In fact, it's something that's positive for me, because it will translate to the field.
"I have no doubt once they step on the field that they're going to be focused on what is important at the time. Once they put the jersey on, they can put everything else on the side and then focus on winning games."
Cordeiro said he was "very disappointed" that the mediation in August wasn't successful.
"A number of us on both sides spent a lot of time preparing for [mediation], and at the meetings themselves," Cordeiro told reporters. "Notwithstanding that, I'd say we're still very committed to resolving this, and in a fair way, but I think at the end of the day, you know, that requires that requires compromise."