U.S. women soccer players reached a landmark agreement with the sport's American governing body to end a six-year legal battle over equal pay, a deal in which they are promised $24 million plus bonuses that match those of the men.
The U.S. Soccer Federation and the women announced a deal Tuesday that will have players split $22 million, about one-third of what they had sought in damages. The USSF also agreed to establish a fund with $2 million to benefit the players in their post-soccer careers and charitable efforts aimed at growing the sport for women.
The USSF committed to providing an equal rate of pay for the women's and men's national teams -- including World Cup bonuses -- subject to collective bargaining agreements with the unions that separately represent the women and men.
"For our generation, knowing that we're going to leave the game in an exponentially better place than when we found it is everything," 36-year-old midfielder Megan Rapinoe said during a telephone interview with 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."
The settlement was a victory for the players, who sparked fans to chant "Equal Pay!" when they won their second straight title in France in 2019. And it was a success for USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former player who became head of the federation in March 2020.
Cone replaced Carlos Cordeiro, who quit after the federation made a legal filing that claimed women had less physical ability and responsibility than male counterparts.
"This is just one step towards rebuilding the relationship with the women's team. I think this is a great accomplishment and I'm excited about the future and working together with them," Cone said. "Now we can shift the focus to other things, most importantly, growing the game at all levels and increasing opportunities for girls and women."
U.S. women have won four World Cups since the program's start in 1985, while the men haven't reached a semifinal since 1930.
Five American stars led by Alex Morgan and Rapinoe began the challenge with a complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in April 2016. Women sued three years later, seeking damages under the federal Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The sides settled the working conditions portion in December 2020, dealing with issues such as charter flights, accommodations and playing surfaces. They were scheduled to argue on March 7 before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to reinstate the equal pay portion thrown out by a U.S. District Court.
"The settlement announced today is an important step in righting the many wrongs of the past," the union for the women's team said in a statement.
While a labor contract remains to be reached and ratified to replace the deal that expires March 31, the settlement was an enormous step.
"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 Morgan, a 32-year-old forward. "To finally get to this moment feels like we can almost sigh a breath of relief."
Players were able to set aside the legal distractions to continue on-field success.
"The additional hours and stress and outside pressures and discriminations we face, I mean sometimes you think why the hell was I born a female?" Morgan said. "And then sometimes you think how incredible is it to be able to fight for something that you actually believe in and stand alongside these women. ... There was something more than stepping on the field and wanting to be a starter or wanting to score goals or wanting to win or wanting to have the glory."
The $22 million will be split into individual amounts proposed by the players, subject to the District Court's approval.
Cone said the federation's method of equalizing World Cup bonuses is yet to be determined. The federation has until now based bonuses on payments from FIFA, which earmarked $400 million for the 2018 men's tournament, including $38 million to champion France, and $30 million for the 2019 women's tournament, including $4 million to the champion U.S.
American men have been playing under the terms of a CBA that expired in December 2018.
Rapinoe was critical of both Cordeiro and his predecessor, Sunil Gulati, who headed the USSF from 2006-18. Cordeiro is seeking to regain the job from Cone when the USSF National Council meets on March 5 to vote on a four-year term.
"The thing that Cindy did was acknowledge the wrongdoing and apologize for the wrongdoing," Rapinoe said. "It was well within Sunil's ability to not discriminate and to pay us fairly and equally. It was well within Carlos' ability to do that, and they made choices not to. ... I think Cindy has shown a lot of strength in that, and I think the other two, frankly, just showed a ton of weakness and showed really their true colors in allowing this to happen for so long."