For women’s history month, LG Women’s Football takes a look at the USWNT’s fight for equal pay and what it means for the world of sport. 

Since the establishment of the U.S. Men’s National Team in 1885, they have won a total of two medals out of 22 Olympics and 22 FIFA Men’s World Cups, with not a single gold in over forty competitions.

In blinding contrast, the U.S. Women’s National Team (established a century later in 1985) has medaled at 6 out of 7 Olympics and 8 out of 9 FIFA Women’s World Cups, netting eight golds, two silvers, and four bronzes.

Not only are they the shining stars of their nation, the USWNT has historically set the golden standard for women’s football for the entire world.

Despite recently slipping off of their pedestal, no other women’s national team has ever been able to supersede their record, and no one will be able to do so in the near future due to the unparalleled magnitude of their achievements.

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However the excellence of the USWNT was long rewarded with unequal pay—until 2022. 

Taking action

In March 2016, five star players of the USWNT (Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Alex Morgan) filed a claim to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The players submitted that the U.S. Soccer Federation committed sex-based wage discrimination in violation of Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and the Equal Pay Act.

”…even more strikingly disparate.”

The claim listed a plethora of instances when the two national teams were paid unequally.

The players stated that WNT players only received between 38% to 72% of the compensation received by their male counterparts for the same work during Friendlies.

The EEOC claim called the compensation received by WNT players for the World Cup “even more strikingly disparate.”

When the USMNT lost the 2014 Men’s World Cup in the round of 16, they received $9 million for their efforts, yet after the USWNT won the 2019 Women’s World Cup, they were paid $2 million for becoming four-time world champions. 

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When the claim yielded no changes three years later, it was withdrawn and 28 players of the USWNT filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation instead.

The lawsuit was filed on International Women’s Day in 2019, and on the precipice of the next Women’s World Cup.

The class action suit, filed in a California district court, likewise made claims of gender-based discrimination in violation of Title XII and the EPA.

It sought “an end to the USSF’s discriminatory practices”, compensation for the plaintiffs, and damages from the defendant.

That summer, the U.S. Women’s National Team knew that they were not just playing to become world champions once more; they were playing to be paid as such.

”We knew this wasn’t going to be easy, change never is.”

On the tailwinds of massive public support from their fans that summer, the USWNT defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in the World Cup final and won their fourth star in France. 

Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, their lawsuit was dismissed by a judge in May 2020.

Molly Levinson, spokesperson for the players, expressed the intention to appeal and Becky Sauerbrunn, a USWNT player and one of the plaintiffs, tweeted in response: “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy, change never is.”

Pioneers of change

Ultimately, the lawsuit was settled out of court in negotiations rather than through litigation.

In February 2022, the USWNT won $24 million settlement, guarantee of future equal pay, and promises of equal working conditions.

After years of fighting, a federal claim, a lawsuit, and another World Cup title, the USWNT became the first to win equal pay, but they are far from the last.

In the years since, other national teams have embarked on their own fights for gender equality and labor justice.

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Some have succeeded; others are still fighting. The USWNT is not only a pioneer of the women’s game, it is also living testimony that the security of a woman’s place on the field is a necessary and worthwhile fight.

Women’s sports will remain intrinsically political as long as women’s place in society is existentially politicised.

The right of girls to play the beautiful game without limitations and the right of women to be paid equally without obstruction is fundamental to the growth of this game and to all women’s sports.

For now, it is our enduring duty as fans to fight for gender justice, both on the pitch and off.

Featured image courtesy of appaloosa via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. License details found here

By Jenny Chen

Jenny recently graduated with a double major in Political Science and in Women’s & Gender Studies. She is formerly a law exchange at the University of Edinburgh. She is currently teaching English in Spain while on her gap years before law school. Her hobbies include writing, traveling, and women’s football.