The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

USWNT breaks off mediation talks in equal pay dispute with U.S. Soccer Federation

The U.S. women’s soccer team celebrates its second straight World Cup title last month in Lyon, France. The Americans won the tournament nearly four months after filing a lawsuit alleging discriminatory practices by the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The U.S. women’s soccer team celebrates its second straight World Cup title last month in Lyon, France. The Americans won the tournament nearly four months after filing a lawsuit alleging discriminatory practices by the U.S. Soccer Federation. (Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press)
Placeholder while article actions load

Three days into a mediation process designed to amicably resolve their gender-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, the 28 members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team broke off talks Wednesday, probably setting the stage for a jury trial.

The decision to end the talks was made public by players’ spokeswoman Molly Levinson, who issued a statement Wednesday night explaining that the players had concluded that their sport’s national governing body, USSF, and its president, Carlos Cordeiro, were determined “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,” the statement read.

Editorial: The U.S. women have more than earned equal pay

Levinson closed by addressing the team’s fans, sponsors and soccer players and women around the world, writing: “We’re undaunted and will eagerly look forward to a jury trial.”

The USSF countered with a statement characterizing Levinson’s remarks as “inflammatory” and “intended to paint our actions inaccurately and unfairly.”

Neil Buethe, USSF spokesman, reiterated the federation’s hope that mediation would produce an agreement.

“Unfortunately, instead of allowing mediation to proceed in a considerate manner, 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 said.

“We always know there is more we can do. 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.”

Jenkins: The U.S. women didn’t wait for their moment. They demanded it.

The U.S. women filed a 25-page lawsuit March 8, roughly three months before they won their second consecutive World Cup. In the complaint, attorneys for the players argued that the USSF provided the women inferior wages, working conditions and investment in their game despite the fact that players did essentially the same job as the U.S. men’s national team.

It was a risky decision to file the suit just three months before the World Cup began, but as the tournament unfolded, there was no evidence that their legal action or any tension with their bosses distracted their focus. On the contrary, the team set scoring records from their opening match. And support for the equal pay fight gained traction with each victory — particularly when their record of four Olympic gold medals and, now, four World Cup championships is compared with that of the U.S. men’s team, which has never reached a World Cup final or won an Olympic medal.

On June 20, roughly midway through the tournament, both sides confirmed they had reached a tentative agreement to pursue mediation.

USWNT, Time’s Up join forces: ‘They’re not willing to wait any longer’

For now, however, it appears talks toward a resolution are off.

If the conflict is resolved by a jury, it may favor the players, who won legions of fans for the grit, passion and athletic dominance they displayed over the month-long World Cup in France.

Chants of “Equal Pay! Equal Pay!” erupted among fans in the sellout crowd of 57,900 at Stade de Lyon on July 7 when their victory over the Netherlands was sealed, clinching their fourth World Cup.

And it has been a rousing theme at each of their celebratory stops since, including their July 10 ticker-tape parade in New York and the Aug. 3 opener of their “Victory Tour” at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

It’s difficult to directly compare the salaries of the U.S. women with those of the men because they are compensated under different contract structures. The women reached their compensation formula under a 2017 collective bargaining agreement, requesting and receiving a guaranteed salary and benefits.

The USSF has hired two Washington lobbying firms to help rebut the women’s claim that their compensation is inferior to that of the men’s squad.

Read more:

In equal pay fight, U.S. Soccer lobbyist contacted Democratic presidential candidates

USWNT victory tour begins, but larger battle remains over equal pay

‘Timing is right’: Jill Ellis to step down as U.S. women’s national team coach