US female players and American football’s lawsuit to settle equal pay

A six-year battle over pay equality between key members of the World Cup-winning USA’s women’s soccer team against the sport’s national governing body ended on Tuesday morning with a settlement that involved paying players millions of dollars and a promise. by their federation for equal pay between men’s and women’s national teams.

Under the terms of the agreement, the athletes – a group of dozens of current and former women’s national team players – will share $24 million in US Soccer payments. The bulk of that number is back pay, an tacit acknowledgment that the men’s and women’s teams’ compensation has been unequal for years.

Perhaps more important than the payment – at least for the players – is American football’s pledge of equal pay between the men’s and women’s national teams in all competitions, including the World Cup, in the teams’ subsequent collective bargaining agreements. This gap was once seen as an unbridgeable gap that prevented any kind of settlement; If closed by the federation in negotiations with both teams, the change could funnel millions of dollars into a new generation of female players.

The settlement is conditional on the ratification of a new contract between the NFL and the women’s national soccer team. Upon completion, all remaining lawsuits in the gender discrimination lawsuit brought by players in 2019 will be resolved.

“It certainly wasn’t an easy process to get to that point,” NFL chief Cindy Barlow Kohn said in a phone interview. “The most important thing here is that we move forward, we move forward together.”

For American football, the settlement is a costly end to a years-long legal battle that has damaged its reputation, damaged its relationships with sponsors and spoiled its relationship with some of its most famous stars, including Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd. American football was not obligated to settle with the women’s team; A federal judge in 2020 rejected the equal-pay players’ arguments, stripping them of nearly all of their legal sway, and the players’ appeal was far from certain to succeed.

For this reason, the settlement represents an unexpected victory for the players: after nearly two years of losing in court in one devastating ruling, they manage to wring not only an eight-figure settlement, but also a commitment from the Federation to enact the same reforms. The judge refused.

Morgan, in a telephone interview, described the settlement as “a massive victory for us and for women.”

She said, “What we set out to do, was recognize the discrimination from US Soccer, and we got that through late payment in the settlement. We set out to get fair and equal treatment in working conditions, and we got that through settlement of working conditions. And we set out to get Equal pay to get us and the men’s team forward through American football, and we made it happen.”

In exchange for a payout and US Soccer’s pledge to address equal pay in future contracts with two marquee teams, the players agreed to release the association from all remaining claims in the team’s gender discrimination lawsuit.

The process may take months. The men’s and women’s teams have already held joint negotiating sessions with US Soccer, but to make the deal work – the federation is seeking a single collective bargaining agreement covering both national teams – the men’s players’ union will have to agree to participate or surrender, millions of dollars in potential World Cup payments from FIFA, the body world football governing body. These payments, set by FIFA and substantially larger for the men’s World Cup than the corresponding women’s tournament, are at the heart of the equal pay gap.

Kohn, a former member of the women’s team, said in September that the federation would not sign new collective bargaining agreements with either team that did not match World Cup prizes. On Tuesday, the Women’s Players Association congratulated its members and their attorneys “for their historic success in combating decades of US Soccer discrimination,” but made it clear that it plans to host American football — and thus the men’s team. Team – for their public promises to support equal pay.

“Although the settlement reached today is an incredible success, there is still much work to be done,” the union said.

The players’ long battle with US Soccer, which is not just their employer but the federation that rules sports in America, has propelled the broader battle for equality in women’s sports and galvanized the support of fellow athletes and celebrities. and politicians and presidential candidates. In recent years, players, teams, and even athletes in other sports — Olympic ice hockey gold medalists, Canadian soccer professionals, and WNBA players — have reached out to U.S. players and their union for guidance in efforts to win similar pay gains and conditions. the work .

Many of these players and teams have made significant gains – Norway, Australia and the Netherlands are among the countries whose football federations have committed to closing the wage gap between men and women – even as the issue of American players continues.

The pay equality battle began nearly six years ago, when five-star players filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing American football of wage discrimination. The women, the core members of the then-World Cup-holder and Olympic champion, claimed they earned less than 40 percent of what players on the men’s national team were paying. The players – Morgan, Rapinoe, Lloyd, Hope Solo and Becky Sauerbrunn – said they were cut in bonuses, appearance fees and even money while in training camps.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Solo said, though the US Soccer team immediately contested them. Solo said male players “get paid more for appearances than we get paid to win the major tournaments”.

Almost immediately, football fans took sides in the fight, splitting an American football in the middle. The union briefly argued that the men brought in more money and attracted higher TV ratings, and thus deserved higher salaries, but he quickly abandoned the position amid a backlash from the public, player outrage and a closer reading of the Equal Pay Act.

By that time, the parties were already deliberating the first of what would be many shots in the media and in court. The federation won a ruling preventing players from boycotting the 2016 Olympics while pressing for new contracts, but only after an embarrassing mistake in which a court filing failed to redact the home addresses and personal email accounts of about two dozen top players.

Subsequent testimonies produced uncomfortable exchanges that players with PR experience used as a weapon on social media and in the slogans they sold on T-shirts. But they also made statements that the players would not forgive.

In March 2020, months after the women’s team won the Women’s World Cup for the second time in a row, American football lawyers argued in a lawsuit that playing for the men’s team requires more “skill” and “responsibility” than its counterpart on the women’s team.

“Seeing blatant misogyny and sexism as an argument used against us is really disappointing,” Rapinoe said, adding, “I know we’re in a contentious fight, but that crossed the line.”

American Football has apologized and replaced its legal team, but the split has widened a bit more. A day later, the union president resigned, and the women set the price for the settlement: $67 million. US Soccer responded with an offer of $9 million.

A settlement has seemed the most likely avenue for both sides since April 2020, when the judge in the women’s case, R. She said American football has substantiated her claim that the women’s team actually generated earnings “on a cumulative and average per game basis” from the men’s team during the years covered by the lawsuit.

The women’s team was, in one of the ironies of the great cause, the victim of its own success. Choosing to play NFL while they were at the height of their power as World Cup champions, the women also chose the worst time ever to rack up a few years of their paycheck versus a few years of men’s pay as the men time was stumbling competitively.

By failing to qualify for the only men’s World Cup played during the lawsuit window, men became ineligible for millions of dollars in performance bonuses, even when women collected bonuses – twice – for winning the World Cup and earned a higher pay after successfully negotiating. shrinkage.

The women vowed to appeal the judge’s ruling, and a deal on working conditions suggested a settlement was still possible. At the time, Kohn, a former women’s national team player, reiterated her continued optimism that a bigger deal could put the battle behind American football and the team, and her hopes of building a “different relationship” with the women’s team and an opportunity to “rebuild trust” between the two sides.