Judge cuts soccer equal pay legal fees from $6.6M to $5.5M

A federal judge granted final approval to the equal pay lawsuit settlement between female players and the U.S. Soccer Federation, cutting legal fees from $6.6 million to $5.5 million.

The Jan. 4 order on legal fees by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner in Los Angeles was referenced Wednesday in an order by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking the parties if they objected to dismissal of the appeal, which remains pending on the docket.

Players sued the USSF in 2019, seeking damages under the federal Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Klausner dismissed the equal pay claim in May 2020 while allowing claims on inequitable working conditions to proceed. The sides settled on the working conditions portion that December while players appealed the pay claim to the 9th Circuit.

The sides announced a pay settlement on Feb. 22 that included $22 million plus a $2 million fund to benefit the players in their post-soccer careers and charitable efforts aimed at growing the sport for women.

Hope Solo, a goalkeeper who sued the USSF in 2018 alleging violations of the Equal Pay Act and sex status discrimination, filed an objection in October, partly over the proposed legal fees. Players were represented by Winston & Strawn.

Klausner granted final approval on Dec. 12 while holding off on a legal fees decision until Jan. 4.

“The court finds that an award of $5.5 million, which represents 22% of the $22 million common fund, is reasonable, and that no special circumstances warrant an upward or downward departure,” Klausner wrote. “Class counsel argues that the circumstances justify a $6.6 million award (30% of the fund), but the court disagrees.

“Class counsel asserts that the ultimate resolution of this case required a great deal of work: hours dedicated to document review, taking depositions, briefing substantive motions, participating in mediation and litigating an appeal, all over a three-year period. It certainly did. But the amount of work required stems from, in significant part, from the fact that the plaintiffs lost their equal pay claims on summary judgment.

“This fact undercuts class counsel's other assertion that it achieved an exceptional result. Class counsel undoubtedly succeeded, but not to a degree that warrants departing from the 25% benchmark.”

Klausner also awarded $1,369,127 in reimbursable costs to cover experts, meals, travel and document preparation, including $50,000 for anticipated settlement administration costs.

The USSF and its women's and men's players' unions reached milestone collective bargaining agreements in May to pay its men’s and women’s national teams equally, deals that were signed in September.


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Anne M. Peterson And Ronald Blum, The Associated Press