How the U.S. women’s soccer team fought and won $24 million in the battle for equal pay

February 22, 2022, 7:09 PM UTC

A whopping $24 million has just been granted by the U.S. Soccer Federation to the U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) after a gender discrimination lawsuit that spanned more than half a decade. The money is a settlement to a lawsuit filed by women players over unequal pay based on gender, according to The New York Times

“For our generation, knowing that we’re going to leave the game in an exponentially better place than when we found it is everything,” Megan Rapinoe, a 36-year-old midfielder, and one of the plaintiffs, told The Associated Press. “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.”

How it all started

Today’s settlement for women’s soccer players did not come easy. 

The decision to fight for equal pay started back in 2016, when five high-profile USWNT players—Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd—filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and alleged unequal pay between men’s and women’s teams.

Then in March 2019, 28 additional women’s soccer players and USWNT members filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination and argued that they received less pay and had poorer working conditions than the men’s team, according to NBC News. That lawsuit grew to encompass anyone in a larger class of players who had been part of the women’s soccer team since 2015, according to The New York Times.

The USWNT’s 2019 equal pay lawsuit was dismissed in May 2020 when a California judge sided with the U.S. Soccer Federation’s argument that the women had actually been more highly compensated than their male counterparts. 

Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted at the USWNT in May 2020, writing:  “To @USWNT: don’t give up this fight. This is not over yet. To @USSoccer: ‘equal pay, now. Or else when I’m president, you can go elsewhere for World Cup funding.’”

The USWNT filed an appeal in July, in which lawyers argued that the women earned more because they outperformed the men by winning more games and qualifying for and winning two World Cups from 2015 – 2019, and that despite this fact the women’s performances, their bonuses were still smaller. 

Today’s landmark agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation marks the end of a six year battle over equal pay. 

The eight figure settlement comes with a contingency. It will only be finalized once the U.S. women’s team and U.S. Soccer ratify a new CBA (collective bargaining agreement). If the CBA is ratified and approved by a district court, it will resolve the prior litigation the players filed in 2019, according to The New York Times.  

What happens now?

The U.S. Soccer Federation pledged to equalize pay between the men’s and women’s national soccer teams in the World Cup and all other competitions, according to a Tuesday statement. 

Out of the $24 million dollars awarded to the USWNT, $22 million will be split amongst several players, and $2 million will be used to start a fund to benefit retired women’s soccer players, and for philanthropic efforts aimed at growing the sport for women, according to the Los Angeles Times

“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,” said Alex Morgan, a 32-year-old forward, to The Associated Press. “To finally get to this moment feels like we can almost sigh a breath of relief.”

The USWNT did not immediately return Fortune’s request for comment.

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