Lessons for employers from U.S. women’s soccer equal pay settlement
Last week, the United States Women’s National Soccer team (USWNT) earned a multimillion-dollar settlement towards the fight for equal pay for women. As previously discussed, in 2019 the USWNT filed a class action lawsuit in federal court alleging that the significant pay disparity between them and the men’s national soccer team constituted sex discrimination by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) in violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Initially, a judge granted summary judgment for the USSF and ruled that the pay disparities between the USWNT and the men’s national soccer team was a result of negotiated terms in their respective collective bargaining agreements, not discrimination. The USWNT appealed that judge’s decision, claiming that they should have been compensated more than the men’s team because of their relative successes. On February 22, 2022, the USWNT settled its equal pay claims with the USSF, contingent on the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement and approval from a federal district court.
The settlement, although a step in the right direction for equal pay, is not precedential for future equal pay cases. Instead, this settlement is a reminder to employers that equal pay violations are at the forefront of enforcement for civil rights agencies, state courts, and federal courts. Moving forward, employers need to ensure that they:
- Maintain accurate payroll records
- Initiate audits of their payroll practices to identify pay disparities
- Identify legitimate business-related bases for pay disparities (for example, a seniority system, merit system, quality/quantity of production system, or disparities based on any other factor than sex)
- Correct any inequitable pay disparities, and document the steps taken to correct the inequitable pay disparities
- Update and maintain accurate job descriptions and equal opportunity policies