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Years-long Legal Wrangling Between USWNT, Federation Ends with Goal

The legal battle over equal pay for U.S. soccer players came to a historic climax last week as the United States Soccer Federation and both the men’s and women’s national teams established new collective bargaining agreements running through 2028.

soccer football g21d0dcb9e 640To that end, the federation, the United States Women’s National Team Players Association and the United States National Soccer Team Players Association brokered a deal featuring equal compensation for both teams, which includes the FIFA World Cup. The deal also includes identical compensation with respect to commercial revenue sharing as well as a number of provisions related to data privacy and player safety, according to the deal’s announcement.

“This is a truly historic moment. These agreements have changed the game forever here in the United States and have the potential to change the game around the world,” said U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone, in a statement. “U.S. Soccer and the USWNT and USMNT players have reset their relationship with these new agreements and are leading us forward to an incredibly exciting new phase of mutual growth and collaboration as we continue our mission to become the preeminent sport in the United States.”

According to the announcement, these first-of-their-kind agreements make the U.S. the only country in the world to equally split FIFA World Cup prize money among men and women.

From Twitter 

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"U.S. Soccer set a new 'global standard' for compensation in the sport with the announcement of collective bargaining agreements setting equal pay for women’s and men’s teams. #USWNT #USMNT"

“These agreements also come at a crucially important moment for our game, with two World Cups in the next year and the 2026 World Cup and 2028 Olympics set to take place on home soil,” said Parlow Cone in a letter. “We now have labor peace through 2028.”

The road to this historic agreement was lengthy, and there was no shortage of legal wrangling to get to this point. In 2016, several members of the women’s team lodged a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to address the pay gap between the men’s team and the women’s team.

Later, a gender discrimination suit was filed against the federation in March of 2019. Claims of unequal pay were dismissed, though, in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles based on calculations showing the women’s team actually earned more than the men’s team from 2015 to 2019. That case was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. There, the EEOC penned an amicus curiae brief supporting the women’s effort.

“Although the [Women’s National Team’s] expert calculated that the women’s team would have earned millions more during that period had they been paid under the terms of the [Men’s National Team’s] collective bargaining agreement, and the undisputed record evidence shows the unequal availability of bonuses to the women in nearly all game categories, the district court threw out both claims on summary judgment,” reads the brief.

It continues, pointing out alleged discrepancies in the ruling. “The court deemed the plaintiffs to have rejected proposals never offered to them, relied on several legally irrelevant factors, conflated one element of an affirmative defense with the plaintiffs’ prima facie case, and generally credited the defendant’s evidence over the plaintiffs—all without resolving pending motions challenging various aspects of the expert reports. This Court should correct these errors.”

Ultimately, a settlement agreement was reached in February. The agreement included provisions requiring equal pay for both teams moving forward. That deal led to this week’s announcement. “The ratification of the CBAs is a necessary and critical step to resolution. We now await the final approval of the settlement by the class members and the Court,” concludes the announcement.

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