About six years ago, five players on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF). The women claimed that they were paid up to four times less than their male counterparts for doing basically the same job.
Three years ago, on International Women’s Day. Twenty-eight members of the USWNT filed this lawsuit against the 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 court then granted summary judgment to USSF on the players’ pay-discrimination claims. The USWNT players sought review of that ruling in an appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
Om Tuesday, the two sides announced that they had settled.
According to a filing in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the parties engaged in settlement discussions and recently agreed on the key terms of a settlement. No one has signed an agreement yet, and any final settlement will depend on ratifying a new USWNT collective bargaining agreement — unequal prize money from FIFA makes this tricky — and approval from the district court.
According to several published reports, among them this one from Jeff Carlisle at ESPN.com, the players will receive a lump sum payment of $22 million. USSF will pay an additional $2 million into an account to benefit the USWNT players in their post-career goals and charitable efforts related to women’s and girls’ soccer. Each player can apply for up to $50,000 from this fund.
The players had sought $66.7 million in back pay.
If you’re USSF, why settle, especially considering the big victory it secured in 2020 when a federal judge dismissed the Equal Pay Act claims?
Molly Hensley-Clancy, writing here for The Washington Post, reported that USSF faced “significant pressure.” Specifically, it had “alienated many of its sponsors when it argued in legal filings that its women’s players were less skilled and worked less demanding jobs than the men.” That approach led to apologies, a new USSF president, and a new legal strategy. Plus, the EEOC planned to argue on behalf of USWNT before the Ninth Circuit. Win or lose, it’s not a good look having the nation’s discrimination watchdog against you.
For USWNT, it’s more cut-and-dried. The risk of not settling is that they lose the case altogether. Specifically, a judge (or jury) concludes that USSF did not treat them differently because of their gender. Under those circumstances, cashing in for $24M, plus a better CBA and good public relations makes sense.
In a joint statement, USSF and USWNT said: “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.”