By Scott Stump
A six-year fight for equal pay has ended in victory for the U.S. women’s national soccer team.
The U.S. women’s national team and the U.S. Soccer Federation announced Tuesday that they have reached an agreement that will resolve a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit filed by a group of USWNT stars fighting for equal pay with the U.S. men’s national team. The agreement will see U.S. Soccer pay the USWNT players a total of $24 million and promise equal pay with the men’s team going forward.
“In the end it came together,” U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe, one of the leaders of the fight, said on TODAY Tuesday. “For us as players I’m just so proud of the way we stuck together and really just kind of put our foot down. This is a huge win for us.”
What will U.S. Soccer pay?
U.S. Soccer will pay $22 million in back pay to settle the claims, as well as $2 million to a fund to benefit USWNT players in their post-career endeavors and charitable efforts. Each player will be allowed to apply for up to $50,000 from that fund.
“For us this is just a huge win in ensuring that we not only right the wrongs of the past but set the next generation up for something that we could only have dreamed of,” Rapinoe said.
The women’s national team will also be provided the same rate of pay as the men’s team going forward in all friendlies and tournaments, including the World Cup.
“It’s really what we set out to do, equalize on all fronts, and we’ve been able to achieve that,” USWNT star Alex Morgan said on TODAY Tuesday. “It’s a really proud moment for all of us.”
In 2016, attorneys for Rapinoe, Morgan and fellow top players Carli Lloyd, Rebecca Sauerbrunn and Hope Solo began the fight for equal pay when they filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming the women’s team should be paid an equal amount as the U.S. Men’s National Team.
“We believe now the time is right because we believe it’s a responsibility for women’s sports, specifically women’s soccer, to really do whatever it takes for equal pay and equal rights and to be treated with respect,” Solo said on TODAY in 2016.
Differences in pay
When the USWNT won international soccer’s most prestigious event, the World Cup, in 2015, the team earned $2 million in prize money that was given to the national federation to be distributed to the players and the organization. Meanwhile, the men’s team, which lost in the round of 16, earned $9 million.
In 2019, 28 members of the USWNT filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, alleging that women’s players were paid a total of $1.725 million in bonuses after winning the World Cup in 2015 while the men’s players were given $5.375 million in bonuses in 2014 by the same federation despite being eliminated in the round of 16.
However, a federal judge threw out the majority of the lawsuit in 2020, saying the women’s players were actually paid more in total compensation than their male counterparts. The athletes’ lawyers appealed the decision, saying the women significantly outperformed the men, who have never won a World Cup.
What did the agreement say?
As part of their agreement, the USWNT and U.S. Soccer have jointly requested that the case currently on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit be held in abeyance and the oral argument scheduled for March 7 be removed from the calendar.
U.S. Soccer decided to reach a settlement with the players to move forward even after winning the initial court case.
“Being in a contentious litigation with our players is not good for our sport,” USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone said on TODAY Tuesday. “I think this is a momentous occasion. This is a huge win for soccer, this is a huge win for U.S. Soccer, the players, of women’s sport, and I’m just so excited to move forward together and actually start working with the women’s team to grow the game both here at home and abroad.”
The settlement is contingent on the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement between the USWNT and U.S. Soccer.
The U.S. men’s soccer team also threw their support behind their female counterparts in 2020, releasing a statement through their players association that U.S. Soccer “had no intention of compensating the women fairly” because it was “trying to protect their monopoly.”
The players settled their Title VII claims with U.S. Soccer in 2020 with a guarantee that they will have equal working conditions with the men’s team going forward, including chartered flights for team travel and similar venues and hotel accommodations.
Rapinoe sees Tuesday as not only a victory for the USWNT, but for all women’s sports as female athletes fight for equal pay. The U.S. women’s national ice hockey team has been another squad that has taken up the fight for equal compensation.
“I think the door’s already been opened, to be honest,” Rapinoe said. “You look at the women’s hockey team. It seems like everywhere you look, here we are performing well beyond just the constraints of our sport. I think we are really in the midst of a an incredible turning point in women’s sports.
“I think we’re all going to look back on this moment with incredible pride. If you’re not paying attention to this right now and what’s happening in women’s sports, you’re sleeping on the whole thing.”
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