United States Women’s National Soccer Team Secures Historic $24 Million Equal Pay Settlement

March 1, 2022

By: Amanda C. Jokerst

I am pleased to introduce you to Amanda Jokerst of our litigation department. In this article, Amanda tells us about a significant employment settlement in the world of professional sports. 

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) secured a $24 million equal pay settlement with the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). The settlement included a promise by the USSF to equalize pay between the women and men’s national team.Though not yet final, as it is contingent upon the USWNT ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement, the settlement is heralded as a huge victory on the equal pay frontier.

For years, the USWNT has been at odds with the USSF over the pay disparity between the women’s and men’s national teams. The class action lawsuit commenced in March 2019, when 28 current and former team members of the USWNT filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. The complaint alleged gender discrimination under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, claiming that despite better on-field performance, the USSF consistently paid the female players less than their male peers. The USWNT has won back-to-back World Cups, while the men’s team failed to qualify for the 2018 quadrennial tournament. The team members also alleged unequal treatment, claiming USSF subjected them to more dangerous playing conditions and provided less favorable accommodations. 

In May 2020, United States District Court Judge Klausner dismissed the equal pay claims and the unequal treatment claim sounding in unsafe play, granting partial summary judgment in favor of the USSF. Judge Klausner found that the USWNT actually made more than the male players during the class period. The team members argued their overall pay was higher only because they won more and, therefore, played more games. The parties settled the unequal treatment claims in December 2020. After which, the team members appealed the decision dismissing the other claims to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  

The lawsuit played out in the public eye, with the brunt of criticism aimed at the USSF, which had been seen as a champion of advancing women’s soccer.  Although it had appeared the team members lost much of their legal leverage, the parties announced the breakthrough settlement on February 22nd. The settlement includes $22 million in back pay. The remaining $2 million will be distributed to a fund dedicated to charitable endeavors for womens' and girls' soccer.