Equal Pay for the World Champs?

By Zach Bawduniak

            On the eve of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, members of the United States Women’s National Team (hereinafter, “USWNT”) filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (hereinafter, “USSF”).[1]  The twenty eight players alleged that they received unequal treatment compared to the Men’s National Team with regard to “pay, medical treatment, travel arrangements, and overall workload.”[2]  These claims reflect a similar lawsuit filed with the EEOC in 2016, where five of the twenty eight players alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[3]  The complaint argued that the Women’s national team was being paid less than the Men’s team because of their sex, and offered the teams’ respective collective bargaining agreements for comparison.[4]  

            In the Women’s CBA, players receive a bonus of $75,000 each for winning the World Cup.[5]  In contrast, the Men’s CBA provides a bonus of $9,3750,000 to be split among the twenty-three players on the roster, equating to more than $400,000 for each player.[6]  Similarly, the Men’s team receives a bonus of $2,500,000 for merely qualifying for the World Cup, while the Women’s team doesn’t get any qualification bonus.[7]  Now, almost exactly six years to the day of the initial lawsuit, the USWNT and USSF have reached a settlement agreement that should mark the beginning of a new era of equality for American soccer.

            The USWNT reached a settlement of $24 million with the USSF, contingent on ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement for the women’s team.[8]  The hope of this new CBA is that it will include a deal with the Men’s National Team to receive equal pay bonuses for World Cup performance.[9]  This settlement falls short of the $66 million that was originally sought by the players, and the contingency on a new CBA has caused differing stances on the true success of the lawsuit.[10]

            Megan Rapinoe, who has been at the forefront of the lawsuit from its inception, has been arguably the loudest voice praising the settlement.[11]  Rapinoe called the settlement a “huge win for all women,” and expressed optimism that it would serve as a watershed moment for the equal pay movement in sports.[12]  However, former USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo was critical of both the settlement and many people’s quick reaction to call it a success.[13]  In an Instagram post, she called the settlement “heartbreaking and infuriating,” criticized the contingent nature of the settlement, and expressed concern regarding the retroactive nature of the settlement and its failure to guarantee anything for future players.[14]  She also outwardly criticized two of her former teammates, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, saying: 

Throughout the entire process, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan were the two most agreeable with the [USSF] and to this day, continue to [sic] accept terms that are nowhere near what we set out to do. They both know this is not a win. They know it’s an easy out of a fight they were never really in.[15]

            With the contingency of a new CBA still pending, only time will tell whether the settlement of this headline case will truly result in the equal pay that women’s soccer players in America have long been fighting for.

[1] See David K. Li & Jay Varela, U.S. Women’s Soccer Team File Gender Discrimination Suit Against its Own Federation, NBC News (Mar. 19, 2019), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/u-s-women-s-soccer-team-files-gender-discrimination-suit-n980981.

[2] Id.

[3] See Michael McCann, What’s Next in the USWNT’s Wage Discrimination Case vs. U.S. Soccer?, Sports Illustrated (Mar. 31, 2016), https://www.si.com/soccer/2016/03/31/uswnt-us-soccer-wage-discrimination-equal-pay-eeoc-legal-analysis.

[4] See Grant Wahl, USWNT Stars Accuse U.S. Soccer of Wage Discrimination in EEOC Filing, Sports Illustrated (Mar. 30, 2016), https://www.si.com/soccer/2016/03/31/uswnt-eeoc-wage-discrimination-equal-pay.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Jenna Greene, Win, Lose, or Draw? Inside the U.S. Women’s Soccer Settlement, Reuters (Mar. 7, 2022, 4:00 PM),https://www.reuters.com/legal/transactional/win-lose-or-draw-inside-us-womens-soccer-settlement-2022-03-07/.

[9] See id.

[10] Compare Josh Marcus, Hope Solo Says US Women’s Soccer $24m Equal Pay Settlement is ‘Infuriating’ Failure: ‘Read the Fine Print’, Yahoo! News (Feb. 25, 2022), https://news.yahoo.com/hope-solo-says-us-women-214351451.html, with Brandon Contes, Megan Rapinoe Celebrates as US Women’s Soccer Team Settles Gender Pay Discrimination Lawsuit: ‘A Huge Win for All Women’, Mediaite (Feb. 22, 2022),  https://www.mediaite.com/sports/the-moment-us-soccer-changed-megan-rapinoe-applauds-gender-discrimination-lawsuit-settlement-on-gma/.

[11] See Contes, supra note 10.

[12] Id.

[13] See Marcus, supra note 10.

[14] Id.

[15] Id. (alteration in original).

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