The return of the Women's World Cup has pushed the U.S. soccer team's high-profile equal pay victory last year back into focus, and employment law experts say the landmark deal the players secured put a dent in unfair salary disparities beyond sports.
This year's tournament got underway July 20, a little over a year after the U.S. women's national soccer team notched a $24 million settlement to resolve a hard-fought, six-year-long legal battle with the U.S. Soccer Federation over the men's team's loftier pay rates.
In that deal, unveiled in early 2022, the federation agreed to pay the highly successful women at an equal rate to the men's team for all games and tournaments, including the World Cup.
As the U.S. team gears up for Tuesday's game in the World Cup group stage — their third match this tournament — experts said the women's off-the-pitch compensation win had ripple effects that will continue to be felt, helping to spur pay equity legislation and prompting many private employers to take a hard look at wage disparities in their ranks. …
The litigation played out alongside other movements aimed at curbing the mistreatment of working women, including the #MeToo and Time's Up campaigns. Epstein Becker Green attorney Ann Knuckles Mahoney said the attention the soccer team brought to unfair pay, combined with these other initiatives, prompted employers to get their own houses in order.
"That focus, in terms of the public attention, certainly draws employers to take action," Knuckles Mahoney said. "Boards and management are paying attention to what's out there in the public eye."
In response, many businesses began conducting pay equity audits and notching up their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, she said. Knuckles Mahoney also said the soccer team's suit and the major media coverage pushed lawmakers into action.
"This case, combined with what was happening with #MeToo and Time's Up, all of that led to a huge movement in terms of the creation of new pay equity laws," Knuckles Mahoney said. "Within the last five years, we've seen the number of laws focusing on equal pay increase significantly."
While all states are governed by the federal Equal Pay Act, enacted in 1963, state legislatures have been increasingly installing stronger protections. Over the last few years, a slew of states have passed measures that ease the standards for bringing a state law equal pay case, ban employers from setting wages based on someone's salary history, and require employers to disclose salary ranges for open positions.
"So is all this moving the needle for less-visible workers? Yes, it is," Knuckles Mahoney said.