More than two dozen members of the U.S. women's national soccer team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation on Friday, just three months before the start of the World Cup.
The civil complaint was launched in federal court in Los Angeles, marking another major step in an ongoing fight between players and the federation over pay and workplace issues.
The 28 plaintiffs, who not only include stars such as Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan but also reserve players, are seeking class-action status so that past players can join.
In the lawsuit, the players said “institutionalized gender discrimination” is reflected in their pay, medical treatment, travel arrangements and overall workload.
“Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that,” team co-captain Morgan said in a statement. “We believe that fighting for gender equality in sports is a part of that responsibility. As players, we deserved to be paid equally for our work, regardless of our gender.”
Claims in the lawsuit, filed on International Women's Day, mirror similar accusations made in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed by five players in 2016 — Lloyd, Morgan, Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and former player Hope Solo.
"I think a lot of people look to us and our team and the collective voice that we have and what we've stood for, for inspiration and for power, and as an ally in this broader fight for equality and human rights, really," said team co-captain Rapinoe, a co-captain.
Back pay is being sought in the damages.
"We believe it is our duty to be the role models that we've set out to be and fight to what we know we legally deserve," forward Christen Press said. "And hopefully in that way it inspires women everywhere."
The U.S. women's soccer team is an international powerhouse, having won three of the seven all-time Women's World Cup titles, including the last one played in 2015. The United States has won gold four times in the six Olympic Games in which women's soccer has been played.
That stands in stark contrast to the men's national team, which took third place in the first World Cup played in 1930 — and hasn't come close since. The Americans didn't qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The lawsuit claimed that American female players were paid a total of $1.725 million in bonuses after winning the Women's World Cup in 2015.
But in 2014, the same federation doled out $5.375 million in bonuses to the American male players, after they reached the round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup, the lawsuit claimed.
When the U.S. women won the World Cup in 2015, 23 million viewers tuned into the title game on Fox — making it the most watched soccer game in American TV history.
"The WNT's success on the field has translated into substantial revenue generation and profits for" the U.S. Soccer Federation, the lawsuit said. "In fact, during the period relevant to this case, the WNT earned more in profits and/or revenue than the MNT."
A representative of the U.S. Soccer Federation said Friday: "Please note that U.S. Soccer does not comment on matters of pending litigation."
The FIFA Women's World Cup kicks off on June 7, in Paris. The first U.S. match is against Thailand on June 11 at 3 p.m. ET