U.S. Soccer and Women’s Players Agree to Settle Equal Pay Lawsuit

 A six-year fight over equal pay that had pitted key members of the World Cup-winning United States women’s soccer team against their sport’s national governing body ended on Tuesday morning with a settlement that included a multimillion-dollar payment to the players and a promise by their federation to equalize pay between the men’s and women’s national teams.

Under the terms of the agreement, the athletes — a group comprising several dozen current and former women’s national team players — will share $24 million in payments from the federation, U.S. Soccer. The bulk of that figure is back pay, a tacit admission that compensation for the men’s and women’s teams had been unequal for years.

Perhaps more notable than the payment, though — at least, for the players — is U.S. Soccer’s pledge to equalize pay between the men’s and women’s national teams in all competitions, including the World Cup, in the teams’ next collective bargaining agreements. That gap was once seen as an unbridgeable divide preventing any sort of settlement; if it is closed by the federation in ongoing negotiations with both teams, the change could funnel millions of dollars to a new generation of women’s players.

The settlement is contingent on the ratification of a new contract between U.S. Soccer and the players’ union for the women’s team. When finalized, it will resolve all remaining claims in the gender discrimination lawsuit the players filed in 2019.

Alex Morgan in 2021. She was one of the original signers of a wage discrimination complaint against U.S. Soccer.
Alex Morgan in 2021. She was one of the original signers of a wage discrimination complaint against U.S. Soccer.
Credit...Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

For U.S. Soccer, the settlement is an expensive end to a yearslong legal fight that had battered its reputation, damaged its ties with sponsors, and soured its relationship with some of its most popular stars, including Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Carli Lloyd. U.S. Soccer was under no obligation to settle with the women’s team; a federal judge in 2020 had dismissed the players’ equal pay arguments, stripping them of nearly all of their legal leverage, and the players’ appeal was not certain to succeed.

For that reason, the settlement represents an unexpected victory for the players: Nearly two years after losing in court in one devastating ruling, they were able to extract not only an eight-figure settlement but also a commitment from the federation.

In exchange for the payout and U.S. Soccer’s pledge to address equal pay in future contracts with its two marquee teams, the women’s players agreed to release the federation from all remaining claims in the team’s gender discrimination lawsuit.

That could take months. The men’s and women’s teams already have held joint negotiating sessions with U.S. Soccer, but to make the deal work — the federation is seeking a single collective bargaining agreement that covers both national teams — the men’s players association will have to agree to share or surrender, millions of dollars in potential World Cup payments from FIFA, world soccer’s governing body. Those payments, set by FIFA and exponentially larger for the men’s World Cup than the corresponding women’s tournament, are at the heart of the equal pay divide.

U.S. Soccer’s president, Cindy Parlow Cone, a former member of the women’s team, said in September that the federation would not sign new collective bargaining agreements with either team that did not equalize World Cup prize money.

“We’re not on opposite sides,” Cone said at the time. “It may seem that way at times, but we’re on the same team, we all have the same goal. It’s just how do we get there.”

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