The U.S. Soccer Federation and the women’s national team have finally reached an agreement in a yearslong dispute over unequal pay between the men’s and women’s teams. In a long overdue win for the women’s team, the USSF has agreed to pay a sum of $24 million to the 30-odd players in the suit, essentially representing back pay for years of poorly compensated work. Even more significant, the federation has pledged to pay the women’s and men’s teams equally in all future competitions including the World Cup.
The women’s team’s fight for equal pay dates back to 2016, when five star players — Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Carli Lloyd — filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That suit was never resolved, and in March 2019, months before winning its second consecutive World Cup, the team filed another suit, this time a federal class-action lawsuit brought by 28 players asserting that top female players earned about 38 percent what their male counterparts made.
Once the team won its fourth World Cup, fans’ demands for fair compensation reached a fever pitch: Players on a four-time world-champion team were somehow still earning less than half the salaries of players on the men’s team, which hasn’t won a single World Cup. Still, the USSF got away with a flimsy argument that playing men’s soccer required more “skill” and “responsibility,” and a judge ruled in its favor in early 2020, saying the pay differences were due not to discrimination but to a difference in the payment structure the women’s team had negotiated in its bargaining agreement.
Things finally started looking up in December 2020 when the USSF agreed to provide better working conditions for the women’s team. Now that a settlement has been reached, the contracts for the men’s and women’s teams will no longer be separate: The USSF is hoping to negotiate a joint bargaining agreement.
That contract will hopefully solve one of the biggest sticking points of the suit: a massive pay discrepancy in World Cup reward money. As the women’s team pointed out in its filing, the men’s bonuses for making it to round 16 were more than three times the women’s bonuses for winning the cup. For the past few years, the USSF has put the blame squarely on FIFA, claiming it doesn’t have any control over how the global governing soccer body distributes its payments. Now the USSF seems more willing to take responsibility: The joint contract will ensure World Cup money from FIFA is divided evenly between the teams. Though it’s not entirely clear how it plans to divvy up the sum, the men’s team — which has historically shown lukewarm support for its colleagues’ fight for equal pay — will likely be asked to sign an agreement sacrificing some of its potential future prize money.
Morgan called the settlement a “monumental win for us and for women.” Rapinoe told CBS, “Justice comes in the next generation never having to go through what we went through.” The players’ union, which will be negotiating the new bargaining agreement, called it an “incredible success” but said “much work remains to be done.” I’d say celebrations are very much in order.