The Fight for Equal Pay: From Women’s Soccer to Corporate America

Global HR

​The U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) is known for winning games, championships and gold medals. But their greatest victory may have come off the field.

In February, the USWNT settled their class action lawsuit over unequal pay and treatment against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for $24 million, the two sides announced in a joint statement. Per the settlement, the players will receive a lump sum payment of $22 million, which will be distributed among the USWNT.

An additional $2 million will be put into an account to benefit the USWNT players in their post-career goals and charitable efforts related to women’s and girls’ soccer. The USSF will also begin paying men and women equally in all tournaments and exhibition games.

Players view the settlement as a victory for gender equality.

“For us, this is a huge win in ensuring that we not only right the wrongs of the past but set the next generation up for something that we could only have dreamed of,” Megan Rapinoe, a USWNT player, told NBC’s “Today” show.

On Twitter, the USWNT Players’ Association applauded the players and their litigation team “on their historic success in fighting decades of discrimination perpetuated by the US Soccer Federation.”

However, The New York Times reported that the settlement is contingent on the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement for the USWNT and USSF. This process could take months, as the USSF seeks a single contract proposal that covers both the men’s and women’s teams.

A ‘Rollercoaster’ Process

The USWNT’s battle for equal pay began in 2016, when multiple players filed a case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the USSF over wage discrimination and unequal working conditions.

Their lawsuit alleged that U.S. female soccer players were paid less than male players despite superior performance on the field. For example, the women’s team was paid nearly $2 million in bonuses after winning the World Cup in 2015, while the men’s team was awarded more than $5 million despite being eliminated in their tournament, the lawsuit claims.

In 2020, a judge dismissed the equal pay portion of the lawsuit due to structural differences in men’s and women’s player contracts. The players appealed in 2021, noting that the judge had not looked at rates of pay and that receiving bonuses was tied to winning games.

In the end, the USWNT emerged victorious.

“I’m not a big fan of rollercoasters, in real life or figuratively,” Rapinoe told ESPN, speaking to the highs and lows of winning the lawsuit. “I did think we would get to this point, 100 percent. I did think we would win all along in this. This is a win for us. And this is a win for the for the players for the next generation, for women’s players around the world.”

Addressing Equal Pay

Pay inequity has also been a problem on a different type of playing field: the workplace.

Women have long been paid less than men. In 2022, women earn 82 cents for every $1 men earn when comparing all women to all men, according to data from the software firm Payscale. For women of color, the gap is even larger.

Sixty-six percent of employers plan to address pay equity this year and over half said they plan to conduct either a gender- or race-based pay equity analysis, according to the PayScale report. But less than 1 in 4 companies said they are actively addressing their pay gaps.

Pay inequity can deteriorate a company’s culture, creating a toxic atmosphere that makes it difficult for an organization to recruit and retain talent. It can also lead to lower lifetime pay and higher rates of poverty among women.

“Pay equity is one way that companies can demonstrate that they respect and value individuals, their skills and expertise,” said Irina Konstantinovsky, executive vice president, chief human resources officer and chief diversity officer for the biopharmaceutical company Horizon Therapeutics. “And when people feel valued and respected, we have found that they bring their best thinking to everything they do.”

In 2020, the Society for Human Resource Management outlined the importance of pay equity, how equal pay improves company culture and a list of best practices for fair pay. In 2021, the organization commissioned a report detailing the latest trends in pay equity

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