Players on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team have settled some of the claims the group made in its Equal Pay Act lawsuit against U.S. Soccer Federation, the national governing body for the sport. The settlement resolves issues related to working conditions that are alleged to be less favorable than those made available or provided to members of the men’s national team.
The settlement does not address the overarching allegations of pay discrimination and unequal pay due to sex, claims that were dismissed in May 2020 by a federal district court judge and which will soon be appealed by the plaintiffs to 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. (The court, in effect, stayed the trial and appeal process due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) The women’s players had sought up to $67 million in alleged back pay.
The settlement resolves issues related to travel and hotel accommodations, playing conditions, and support services. U.S. Soccer and the USWNT Players Association intend to incorporate these changes into their collective bargaining agreement.
The players will play in “top-tier” stadiums and on grass “in nearly all circumstances.” The plaintiffs have argued that poorer playing conditions increase the risk of significant and potentially career-threatening injuries. A team of dedicated physicians, as well as nearly two dozen “operational and technical support service professionals.” will now be assigned to the women’s team pursuant to the terms of the settlement.
U.S. Soccer will also provide the women’s team an equal number of charter flights and a travel budget comparable to that of the men’s team and will assure the players stay in “top-quality hotels.”
The crux of the players’ claims is that the men’s national team players are paid more money than the women’s national team players. Both the men and the women players are paid in accordance with the collective bargaining agreements their respective unions negotiated with U.S. Soccer. The men are paid on a pay-for-play basis, factoring in appearances and performance, with no guaranteed player income. The women’s contract includes guaranteed salaries and other benefits, such as child care and severance.
U.S. Soccer has said it offered the USWNT Players Association a contract similar to that of the men’s, but the union has rejected the offer.
However, the pool of money that would be available to the women’s team – using the same formula as in the men’s contract – would yield lower pay to the women players compared with the men because the men’s revenue pool is filled with distributable funds derived from the men’s FIFA World Cup, which dwarfs the funds provided by the women’s World Cup.
That the union agreed to different compensation terms than the men was the principle reason the lawsuit was dismissed. The Equal Pay Act prohibits men and women from being paid differently “on the basis of sex” with exceptions that include “a differential based on any other factor other than sex.” The women’s collective bargaining agreement can be such a differential.
Jackson Lewis’ Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group will continue to monitor and report on the status of this case and the 9th Circuit appeal during the weeks and months ahead. Please feel free to reach out to any member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group with questions.