The United States Women’s National Soccer Team has been a dominant force in soccer and women’s sports for decades, winning several World Cups and drawing large crowds to its matches and high television ratings. Still, the players filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2016 that cites Title VII and Equal Pay Act violations. There was also an ongoing 2019 gender discrimination lawsuit.
The 2016 complaint in part reads: “the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts. This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players.”
The women encountered a setback in 2020 when a federal judge dismissed their claim because the women’s team agreed to a deal (approved using collective bargaining) with U.S. Soccer that structured pay differently than the Men’s National Team. The team disagreed with the judge and appealed in 2021.
The high-profile case saw many famous players forcefully weigh in on the matter in person and via social media while also building the support of fans and sponsors. The iconic team received support from and inspired other female professional athletes like WNBA players, USA Women’s Hockey, and even presidential candidates. They became a symbol for equal pay and treatment in all professions in the U.S. and worldwide.
The federation and players abruptly ended the dispute on February 21, 2022, with a $24 million-dollar settlement for back pay as well as the promise to equalize the income with that of the men, who previously earned more, traveled more comfortably, had better training facilities and larger stipends. Despite not even qualifying for the last World tournament, the men received this. The settlement is also a tacit admission by U.S. Soccer Federation that there was unequal treatment.
The women were not guaranteed to win their appeal, but they had established the moral high ground in the court of public opinion. Indeed, the dispute damaged the reputation of U.S. Soccer among fans and sponsors. The settlement still hinges on collective bargaining approval by the women’s players union. For pay to be equal, the men will have to share their piece of the men’s FIFA World Cup pie – the men’s pay from FIFA for matches is exponentially higher than the women’s. Many of the men’s soccer players vocally supported the women’s efforts up to this point, but now its time to put their money where their mouth is.
The matter is still not completely settled at this point, but it is clear that the women’s campaign for public support was as successful as any of their championships.