The U.S. Soccer Federation ended a multi-year legal battle by agreeing to settle with female players who sued the organization over equal pay.
The USSF will pay $24 million to the players who sued in 2019. According to the Feb. 22 announcement, $2 million will be used to create a fund that supports players after they retire from playing as well as financial aid and philanthropic efforts to increase the number of opportunities for women in soccer.
The remaining $22 million will be divided among the plaintiffs. Additionally, the organization will match their bonus to what is given to male players and publicly commit to establishing an equal pay rate for players of both genders.
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe and forward Alex Morgan had challenged the pay difference in April of 2016 through a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Equal pay reemerged as a central concern for fans of U.S. Women’s soccer after the team won their fourth World Cup title in 2019. Spectators voiced concerns that female players earn less than their male counterparts who had not had as much success on the field.
At the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the prize money pool totaled $15 million — of which the victorious American team received $2 million.
In contrast, the men’s World Cup Prize pool for the same year was $576 million. The American men’s team took home $9 million when it lost in the 16th round.
Rapinoe and Morgan subsequently sued for damages citing the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The lawsuit would have been heard in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 7 if the sides had not reached an agreement.
“For our generation, knowing that we’re going to leave the game in an exponentially better place than when we found it is everything,” midfielder Rapinoe told AP News during a phone call following the settlement. “That’s what it’s all about because, to be honest, there is no justice in all of this if we don’t make sure it never happens again.”
Morgan echoed her teammate’s sentiments, noting “To finally get to this moment feels like we can almost sigh a breath of relief.”
“It’s so gratifying to feel like we can start to mend a relationship with U.S. Soccer that has been severed for so many years because of the discrimination that we faced,” Morgan told the outlet.
Women’s soccer is historically less profitable than men’s soccer. Although the players received a larger share of the money they make in tournaments than men’s teams, women’s soccer sponsors spend less money on the sport in general.
“The real question is not why female athletes are paid less,” reported Business Insider in 2019. “People should be asking why fans and sponsors are less interested in supporting women’s sports — and this is what they should be outraged about.”
The sport is considered a smaller market, with low attendance and minimal revenue.
USSF’s settlement was reached just over a year after the parties agreed upon the portion of the lawsuit that challenged the working conditions, including accommodation and playing surfaces. The sum is approximately one-third of the $66 million the women initially sought.