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The U.S. national women's soccer team wins $24 million in equal pay settlement

Members of the World Cup-winning U.S. women's team take part in a ticker tape parade for the women's World Cup champions in July 2019 in New York.
Johannes Eisele
AFP via Getty Images
Members of the World Cup-winning U.S. women's team take part in a ticker tape parade for the women's World Cup champions in July 2019 in New York.

The U.S. Women's National Soccer team has reached a proposed settlement in its class action equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.

"We are pleased to announce that, contingent on the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement, we will have resolved our longstanding dispute over equal pay and proudly stand together in a shared commitment to advancing equality in soccer," both parties said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

U.S. Soccer has agreed to pay a lump sum of $22 million in back pay to the players, ESPN reports, which will be distributed in a manner proposed by players and approved by the court. The federation will also put $2 million into a fund for USWNT players' post-career goals and charitable efforts, with each player able to apply for up to $50,000.

The federation has also promised to provide an equal rate of pay between the men's and women's national senior teams in all friendlies and tournaments, including the World Cup.

But "getting to this day has not been easy," as the parties noted in their statement.

How the lawsuit started

The lengthy legal dispute dates back to a federal equal pay complaint filed by five high-profile members of the women's national team in 2016. They said each member of the women's team was paid thousands of dollars less than the men at nearly every level of competition.

Twenty-eight players then sued U.S. Soccer in March 2019, alleging that female players were consistently paid less than their male counterparts despite superior performance on the field.

The lawsuit came months after the U.S. men's soccer team failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 — and just before the women's team went on to win its second consecutive tournament in 2019, to the crowd's celebratory chants of "Equal pay!"

In May 2020, a federal judge dismissed the women's claim that they were paid less for the same work — along with other key parts of the suit, pointing to differences in the structure of the men's and women's contracts (which they had agreed to in collective bargaining). Other aspects of the suit related to working conditions were settled out of court in December.

Several of the players filed an appeal on the equal pay claims in July 2021, saying the judge had not looked at rates of pay and the fact that women had to win more often than men in order to receive bonuses.

It's not quite final yet

The settlement is contingent on the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement by the USWNT Players Association. The players and the federation are operating under a "memorandum of understanding" that runs through the end of March, The Athleticreports. The district court will be able to schedule final approval of the settlement once the agreement has been ratified.

"After the parties finalize the settlement agreement, they plan to advise the district court of the settlement, and then seek a limited remand from this Court under Federal Rule of the Appellate Procedure 12.1 so that the district court can consider the settlement," the parties said in a joint motion filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday.

ESPN reports that settlement talks accelerated in recent weeks, ahead of a scheduled March 7 hearing (which the parties have asked the court to postpone while they finalize the settlement agreement).

The players foresee a lasting impact

The agreement falls short of the more than $66 million that the players had sought in back pay but still amounts to a significant victory for the team.

"We feel like this is a huge win — obviously contingent upon the ratification of the CBA — but it will have equal pay on everything moving forward," Megan Rapinoe, captain of the Seattle-based OL Reign and the women's national team, told The Athletic. "It's honestly kind of surreal. I feel like I need to take a step back. We've all been in the trenches of it for so long. I think I honestly don't even understand how monumental this is."

In their statement, the team and federation honored the legacy of USWNT leaders who helped make this moment possible as well as those who will follow.

They said they look forward to continuing working together to "grow women's soccer and advance opportunities for young girls and women in the United States and across the globe."

A version of this story first appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.