U.S. Women's Soccer Settles Equal-Pay Lawsuit: A Timeline
Although U.S. women's soccer star Alex Morgan called the settlement a "proud moment" for U.S. women's soccer, the fight is far from over on an international scale.
The six-year battle over equal pay between the U.S. women's soccer team and the U.S. Soccer Federation came to a close on Tuesday morning with a settlement that includes a $24 million payout and a promise from the national governing body to equalize pay between the women's and men's national teams.
The difference in compensation for men's and women's soccer has historically been wide. In 2019, FIFA, the nonprofit organization that exists to govern soccer and develop it around the world, awarded $30 million to the 24 teams at the women's World Cup, including $4 million to the U.S. after it won its second straight title. The payouts paled in comparison to those made to the men's division: $400 million in prize money for the 32 teams at the 2018 men's World Cup and $38 million to the champion, France. Moreover, the U.S. women's team has won four FIFA Women's World Cup titles since the competition's founding in 1991, while the U.S. men's team hasn't come close to a win since it took third in 1930.
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An overview of the fight for equal pay in U.S. women's soccer
The first step towards today's settlement was taken back in 2016 when U.S. women's soccer stars Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd filed Equal Pay Act and Title VII wage discrimination claims with Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). Both Solo and Lloyd have since retired from the sport.
By summer 2018, more than two years after the filing, the EEOC had yet to issue a ruling. On August 24 of that year, Solo filed a suit against the USSF in federal court, challenging U.S. Soccer's violation of the Equal Pay Act and wage discrimination in the Northern District of California. On December 21, 2018, the Federation issued its response, arguing that Solo's complaint was insufficient to state an Equal Pay Act violation and that she had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. Solo then filed a response to the Federation's motion to dismiss on January 1, 2019.
In March 2019, just three months before the start of the World Cup, 28 members of the USWNT filed a lawsuit, alleging years of continuous institutionalized gender discrimination against the players in their compensation and working conditions. The lawsuit captured the country's attention, and following the U.S. women's team's 2019 World Cup win in Paris, the stadium was filled with chants of "Equal Pay!"
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The USWNT's equal pay lawsuit was dismissed in May 2020 when the judge accepted U.S. Soccer's argument that the women had actually been paid more in total compensation than men's team players. But the USWNT's appeal in July 2021 argued that was only the case because the women outperformed the men — yet still received smaller performance bonuses.
In its final brief filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2021, the USWNT cited an appeal granted earlier that month in another case of gender-based wage discrimination as a basis for the judge's error in dismissal.
Now, the settlement relies on the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement for USWNT and U.S. Soccer.
What the win means for U.S. women's soccer now and in the future
U.S. Soccer will pay $22 million to the players in the case and put another $2 million into an account to "benefit USWNT players in their post-career goals and charitable efforts related to women's and girls' soccer," according to the settlement terms. Players can apply for up to $50,000 from the fund.
Additionally, the years-long legal fight led to the resignation of U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro in March 2020 after the exposure of a legal filing that included sexist language comparing women's and men's players. Former American midfielder Cindy Parlow Cone was appointed in his place and became the first female president in the federation's history.
Although Alex Morgan called the settlement a "proud moment" for U.S. women's soccer on NBC's Today show, the fight is far from over on an international scale. "U.S. Soccer has agreed to equalize the prize money moving forward, obviously we call on FIFA to truly equalize that for men's and women's tournaments," she said. "That's really what we set out to do. Equalize on all fronts."
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