On February 22, 2022, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) and U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) announced a settlement had been reached in their ongoing case. In 2019, twenty-eight members of the USWNT filed a lawsuit against USSF in federal court alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court conditionally certified the case as a collective action under the Equal Pay Act and certified the case as a class action under Title VII. The district court granted summary disposition to USSF on the player’s pay-discrimination claims. USWNT then sought review of that ruling in an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court.
Since the initial lawsuit was filed, the parties have engaged in settlement discussions and recently agreed on key terms, according to a filing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. An agreement has yet to be signed, and a final settlement will require ratifying the USWNT collective bargaining agreement. The district court will also need to approve the settlement.
ESPN published a report stating the lawsuit was settled for a total of $24 million. Players will receive a lump sum of $22 million, while the other $2 million will go into an account to benefit the players in their post-career goals and charitable efforts geared towards women’s and girls’ soccer. Players can apply for up to $50,000 from this $2 million fund. USSF has committed to now provide an equal rate of pay going forward for the women’s and men’s national teams “in all friendlies and tournaments, including the Word Cup.” The World Cup bonuses have been a long-standing point of contention for players.
Although the players originally sought $67 million in back pay, this settlement is still considered a large victory for USWNT. The Employer Handbook blog explains the risks USWNT took by going to court. Had the case not settled, the players risked having a judge conclude that USSF did not treat them differently because of their gender.
The USSF had obtained a large victory when a judge dismissed the Equal Pay Claims in 2020. However, according to a Washington Post article written by Molly Hensley-Clancy, USSF faced “significant pressure.” USSF alienated its sponsors, had to hire a new president, and needed to develop a different legal strategy after arguing in court that the women’s players were less skilled and worked less-demanding jobs than the men. Additionally, the EEOC planned to argue on behalf of USWNT before the Ninth Circuit Court, and President Biden publicly sided with the players following the 2020 ruling and threatened to cut funding for the 2026 World Cup.
USSF and USWNT released a joint statement in response to the settlement, stating:
Getting to this day has not been easy. The U.S. Women’s National Team players have achieved unprecedented success while working to achieve equal pay for themselves and future athletes. Today, we recognize the legacy of the past USWNT leaders who helped to make this day possible, as well as all of the women and girls who will follow. Together, we dedicate this moment to them. We look forward to continuing to work together to grow women’s soccer and advance opportunities for young girls and women in the United States and across the globe.