While most federations put their prize money back into developing the next generation, US Soccer’s prize money is paying the current players and their lawyers.
While the women’s team won a $24m settlement, is it really a victory for equal pay? According to filing, the women who stand to collect that settlement are fine with that money, with the exception of Hope Solo, who has not settled a separate lawsuit against US Soccer and has pounced on those legal fees in an effort to block the settlement with her former teammates.
The women’s legal team’s filing includes plenty of self-aggrandizement about the landmark settlement and the collective bargaining agreement that followed, the latter of which was a multiparty conversation that would be at best tangentially related to the lawyers’ aggressive posture. What’s mentioned a bit less frequently is one little detail, they did lose the case.
How Did the Women Fair in Court?
In the court of public opinion, the women did quite well. The math and logic of their legal team’s filings meant little when weighed against an unsympathetic US Soccer Federation, whose own lawyers drastically mis-stepped with a filing that claimed women have less “ability” than men, a move that precipitated the resignation of tone-deaf federation president Carlos Cordeiro.
In the court of law, the women lost the bulk of their case on summary judgment. The key factor was that the US women had always negotiated not just for a different pay scale but for a different pay structure – many women were on salaries while the men played for bonuses only.
“The WNT was willing to forgo higher bonuses for other benefits, such as greater base compensation and the guarantee of a higher number of contracted players,” stated Judge R Gary Klausner. “Accordingly, Plaintiffs cannot now retroactively deem their CBA worse than the MNT CBA by reference to what they would have made had they been paid under the MNT’s pay-to-play structure when they themselves rejected such a structure.”
Settlement, Backpay and Grants
Simply put, when the evidence was put before any critical examination in which the opposition could be heard, the women’s lawyers lost. The women’s lead lawyer, Jeff Kessler, has been wildly successful in cases involving sports other than soccer. But he has a track record of losing cases against US Soccer, only to drag them out on appeal.
Under the terms of the agreement, the athletes will receive $24 million and a pledge from the soccer federation to equalize pay for the men’s and women’s national teams.
The settlement is $22m in back pay and $2m in grants for players’ service to the game after their playing days are done. If the legal team takes an $8m cut, that’s $14m in back pay and the $2m in grants.