The U.S. women’s soccer team ended mediation talks with the U.S. Soccer Federation on Wednesday without reaching an agreement in its gender-discrimination lawsuit, an ominous sign for the acrimonious battle between soccer’s domestic governing body and the best women’s team in the world.
Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the players, said the team was hopeful entering mediation but “must conclude these meetings sorely disappointed in the Federation’s determination to perpetuate fundamentally discriminatory workplace conditions and behavior.
“It is clear that USSF, including its Board of Directors and President Carlos Cordeiro, fully intend to continue to compensate women players less than men. They will not succeed. We want all of our fans, sponsors, peers around the world, and women everywhere to know we are undaunted and will eagerly look forward to a jury trial.”
U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe said the federation hoped to address issues respectfully and reach an agreement during mediation, but “plaintiffs’ counsel took an aggressive and ultimately unproductive approach that follows months of presenting misleading information to the public in an effort to perpetuate confusion.”
Buethe criticized the players’ spokeswoman’s statements as inflammatory but said the federation aimed to continue discussions in good faith.
“We always know there is more we can do,” Buethe said. “We value our players, and have continually shown that, by providing them with compensation and support that exceeds any other women’s team in the world.”
All 28 players in the national-team pool sued the federation March 8 for what they say is unequal pay and treatment compared with the U.S. men’s team. Last month the women’s team won its second consecutive World Cup and its fourth overall. The men’s team hasn’t won a World Cup and failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament.
If the sides do not hold further mediation talks and reach a settlement, the case could go to trial late next year.
On Monday, the day before the two-day mediation was to begin, a player emailed to U.S. Soccer’s board of directors a letter signed by all 28 players. The letter lays out the history of the women’s pay complaints against U.S. Soccer going back to 1999 and calls on the board to take action.
“In your capacity as a leader of this sport, and a member of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Soccer Federation, please direct your representatives to achieve a solution,” the letter reads. “We do not have any more time to waste, and neither do you. Our collective fans, sponsors, colleagues, and peers are waiting and watching for us to emerge, triumphant, together.”
The women’s pay fight was a central focus of its month-long run to this year’s World Cup title in France. Thousands of fans chanted “Equal pay!” after the U.S. beat the Netherlands in the July 7 final in Lyon. Many others yelled the same thing a few days later when the U.S. team was celebrated in a New York City parade. U.S. Soccer sponsors such as Secret Deodorant have called on the federation to address the players’ complaints.
The players’ letter details more extensively than ever before the players’ account of how they came to sue their governing body. It describes “grueling months” of negotiations over their current collective-bargaining agreement, finalized in 2017, and a parallel attempt to seek better pay and working conditions from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with which five players filed a complaint against U.S. Soccer in spring 2016.
“We believed that the EEOC could redress our legal claims and help us find a solution if the collective-bargaining process did not yield equal pay and comparable working conditions, including for periods covered by the past CBA,” the letter reads. That complaint ultimately stalled and the players secured permission to sue the federation.
During CBA negotiations, the U.S. women’s players association “negotiated the best deal that it could, and we ultimately ratified that Agreement, an act that we continue to think was in the best interest of women’s football,” the letter reads. “But the equal pay issues remained open.”
The EEOC asked the federation, player representatives and the players’ association to attempt to mediate the players’ EEOC complaint, the letter said. But the federation “refused to even make an offer of equality,” the letter reads.
“Instead, we continued to suffer disparate treatment related to not only compensation, but also in venues, staffing, and travel accommodations,” the letter reads. It notes that the treatment continued after the early-2018 election of Cordeiro as president of U.S. Soccer, “even though Carlos had promised in his campaign to work toward equality.”
The letter says that the players, “facing no choice but to either entirely abandon our efforts to be treated equally or to file a legal complaint against USSF, we filed our equal pay lawsuit.”
The letter notes that after filing suit, the players reached out several times to Cordeiro in hopes of resolving the equal-pay dispute before the World Cup, as The Wall Street Journal reported in June. The sides couldn’t agree on terms for a meeting and never got together.
The letter refers to the fact that several lawmakers have proposed legislation to address the equal-pay issue. One proposed bill in the House and one in the Senate would prohibit the use of funds for the 2026 men’s World Cup, which the U.S. is hosting with Canada and Mexico, if U.S. Soccer doesn’t provide equitable pay to the men’s and women’s national teams. Securing the World Cup bid was one of Cordeiro’s central goals and achievements.
A spokeswoman in the office of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a sponsor of one of the bills, said that State Department visa waivers and other privileges for visiting officials from soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, would be prohibited by the bill. So would the use of federal grants for such things as infrastructure upgrades, security and other services for games that take place in the U.S., the spokeswoman said in an email.
“For both parties, the risk of not resolving our disagreements over equal treatment that were not addressed either in bargaining or through the EEOC is too high,” the players’ letter reads. “U.S. Soccer’s reputation, sponsor relations, fan support, and federal funding for the 2026 World Cup tournament are all at risk, and that risk continues should we not reach resolution.”
In July, Cordeiro wrote an open letter saying that U.S. soccer paid its women’s team more than its men’s team from 2010 to 2018. For the women, those funds include pay for playing on the national team and, in addition, for playing in the professional National Women’s Soccer League, which the federation helps support financially. The men’s team pay is only for its play on the national team.
Write to Rachel Bachman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8