Women’s soccer team takes steps toward pay equity

Fans cheer U.S. Women’s Soccer Team at a NYC ticker tape parade honoring their 2015 World Cup win. PHOTO: New York City Department of Transportation
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The United States Women’s soccer team has reached a $24 million settlement with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), ending a six-year battle over equal pay. That’s right: the USSF, which once claimed that “the men’s team requires a higher level of skill than the women,” has agreed not to discriminate on pay based on gender, from now forward.

Under the agreement, the players will split a $22 million damages award — a third of the original $66 million sued for. The USSF also agreed to establish a fund of $2 million to benefit the players in their post-soccer careers and promised bonuses that match the men’s team going forward.

Fan support, player solidarity, and media attention forced the USSF to commit to future equal pay for the women’s and men’s national teams — including World Cup bonuses — but the deal hinges on the players and the federation signing a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). “As exciting as this settlement is, it does not mean anything unless a new CBA is signed that guarantees equal pay going forward,” said sports author David Zirin.

A six-year battle. The legal dispute began when Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo along with Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Becky Sauerbrunn filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over wage discrimination. Three years later, 28 members of the national women’s soccer team filed a lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act in California Federal Court.

Despite the fact that the U.S. women’s team has won four World Cups, and the men’s team hasn’t reached the semifinals since 1930, U.S. Soccer paid men a minimum of $5,000 per match, while female players were only paid if they won against a team ranked in the top 10 worldwide.

Their suit was dismissed by a judge in 2020, but the players filed an appeal and stepped up their public campaign. Under growing pressure, the USSF caved and offered a settlement.

While the admission of past discrimination and award of partial damages is an historic win, it is only one step toward truly equal pay. The promise of wage parity going forward is still up in the air.

Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo have differing views of the victory. Rapinoe told ESPN, “There is no other way to look at it than just a monumental win for women’s sports and women’s soccer in particular.” Solo is not so optimistic saying, “Read the fine print. ‘Contingent upon negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement.’ It doesn’t exist yet and it is not guaranteed. If the players had ever been successful in negotiating an equal CBA, there would have been no reason to sue the federation in the first place.”

Next steps. Solo’s concern is that men and women must bargain and agree on a joint CBA. Furthermore, “We have to decide what categories are covered, roster bonuses, tournament wins, and friendlies [aka: exhibition games].”

The star goalkeeper also points out that the U.S. Soccer Federation has no control over the prize money awarded by FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) for World Cup wins. Solo believes FIFA will never agree to equal prize money for men and women. The last World Cup men’s winner received $56 million in prize money while the U.S. women, who won their last World Cup, only received $8 million. Solo may be right, but players should demand USSF pressure FIFA for pay equity.

In the United States, women’s soccer has a far larger fan base than the men’s team. The stadium resounded with chants of “Equal pay! Equal pay!” after their recent World Cup victory. The public knows that the women are the ones who get ratings, win on an international stage, and get commercial endorsements; the men are much less competitive. Zirin notes, “The women have been making less money for work that wasn’t just equal, but superior, to their male counterparts.”

This settlement is a turning point for women in U.S. soccer and should lead to stronger fights for pay equity in other sports. Next steps are a signed collective bargaining agreement and parity on World Cup purses.

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