On May 17, 2022, US Soccer and the US Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association announced a labor agreement that equalizes the pay for the men’s and women’s national soccer teams. This victory for equal pay is the result of more than six years of concerted effort by members of the women’s national team and serves as a powerful reminder that employers should pay men and women equal pay for equal work.
The saga began in March 2016, when four members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team – Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn – each filed sex discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that players on the women’s team were paid between 28% and 62% less than players on the men’s team. In 2019, 24 other members joined these four to bring a lawsuit in a California federal court against US Soccer on behalf of women’s national team members. The lawsuit asserted that US Soccer had violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by paying members of the women’s national team less than members of the men’s team for substantially equal work and by denying them equal playing, training, and travel conditions, as well as equal promotion and development opportunities.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits wage discrimination based on sex. It requires that employers pay the same wages for jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility that are performed under similar working conditions, unless the employer can show that pay is differentiated on some factor other than sex. Under Title VII, employers may not discriminate on the basis of sex when determining wages.
As of early 2019, the women’s national team had won three World Cup titles and four Olympic Gold medals since 1991 and had been ranked number one in the world for ten of the previous eleven years. After the case was filed, the women’s national team went on to win a fourth World Cup title in the summer of 2019. By contrast, the men’s national team had never won a World Cup title or an Olympic medal yet were paid substantially more than the women.
The inequalities between the men and women’s teams also extended to play conditions. For example, women were required to play more often on inferior artificial turf and traveled to games on commercial flights, while men played almost exclusively on grass and flew more often on private planes.
In December 2020, the women’s team settled their claims regarding inferior work conditions, requiring US Soccer to equalize playing surfaces for domestic matches, devote equal resources to both teams for chartered flights and accommodations while traveling, and provide them with equal support staffs.
In February 2022, US Soccer and the women’s national team announced that they settled the equal pay claims, pending negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement that would guarantee future equal pay. US Soccer agreed to pay $22 million in backpay to the players involved in the lawsuit and to create a fund of $2 million to help women’s team players in post-soccer careers and to support charitable efforts.
In May, the parties announced that they had agreed to a new labor agreement that guarantees equal pay for the men’s and women’s teams over the next six years, including for the World Cup. For example, in the 2014 and 2015 World Cups, the men’s team split $9 million for losing in the quarter finals, while the women’s team split $2 million for winning the whole thing. To counteract this inequality, the new labor agreement requires US Soccer to equally split the amount awarded to both US national teams for participating in the 2022 men’s and 2023 women’s World Cups.
Correia & Puth represents employees confronting discrimination, retaliation, unequal pay, harassment, and wage claims. Please contact us if you are in need of legal assistance due to discrimination or retaliation in the workplace.