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U.S. Soccer president ‘surprised’ by women’s team’s gender discrimination suit

Tobin Heath, second from right, with U.S. national teammates Mallory Pugh (No. 11), Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan (No. 13). (Mike Carlson/Associated Press)

The president of the U.S. Soccer Federation said Friday that he was “surprised” by the gender discrimination lawsuit filed last week by the U.S. women’s national team and that he has met with the team’s veteran players to attempt to resolve the issue.

“I want to assure everyone in our soccer family that U.S. Soccer and its Women’s National Team players remain partners with shared goals and aspirations,” Carlos Cordeiro wrote in an open letter, his first public comment about the litigation. “For that reason, we are very optimistic as to what is possible, and our commitment to reaching a common ground is absolute. At the same time, we have every confidence that our USWNT players will be relentless in their pursuit of winning the Women’s World Cup this summer in France.”

The players’ suit, filed March 8 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges U.S. Soccer “utterly failed to promote gender equality” and that federation officials have “gone so far as to claim that ‘market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men.’ "

Analysis: U.S. team hopes to send a message to girls everywhere

The complaint, which seeks class-action status to allow former players to join, accuses the national federation of paying lower salaries to women and subjecting them to more dangerous playing conditions than their male counterparts.

Cordeiro rejected those accusations in his letter, saying U.S. Soccer has increased its investment in the women’s national team in recent years, adding staff and chartered planes for players, creating two international tournaments to improve competition and devoting resources to grass-roots development programs for girls.

“In addition, U.S. Soccer believes that all female athletes deserve fair and equitable pay,” he said.

Cordeiro cited a collective bargaining agreement reached in April 2017 with the women’s national team and said players had not raised concerns over the labor deal.

“We are disappointed that USSF is not being truthful about multiple attempts by the players and their representatives to discuss and address discrimination and unequal pay and treatment following the 2017 CBA," team representative Molly Levinson said on behalf of the players in a statement provided to The Washington Post. “Even as we train to represent the U.S. in the upcoming World Cup, we look forward to pursuing these claims and continue to hope for an outcome where USSF complies with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act.”

A comparison of pay schedules included in the complaint showed that a male player could earn an average of $263,320 for 20 exhibition matches in a year and a female player could earn a maximum of $99,000.

Cordeiro said in the statement that he met with players Wednesday to discuss those issues, but the group did not arrive at a resolution. He called the conversation “open, cordial and professional” and said the sides would remain in contact.

The U.S. women’s national team has dominated the international game in recent years. The American women won the World Cup in 1991, 1999 and 2015, and they did not finish worse than third in that span. The men’s team has never won the tournament and did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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