USWNT v. U.S. Soccer Federation: A Breakdown

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (“USWNT”) is in a highly contested match; this time against their own employers. Here’s what you need to know about the gender discrimination lawsuit the women have filed against the U.S. Soccer Federation (“USSF”).

Who: Members of USWNT vs. U.S. Soccer Federation

Where: United States District Court for the Central District of California Western Division

What: On March 8, 2019, the USWNT filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit against USSF alleging the organization engaged in “institutionalized gender discrimination” toward the team. On February 20, 2020, each side filed a motion for summary judgment (MSJ) with the USWNT asking for $66.7 million while USSF pleading to have the suit dismissed entirely. A MSJ is a request for the court to rule that the other party has no case because there are no facts at issue therefore the case should not go before a jury. On May 1, 2020, Judge Gary Klausner granted a partial summary judgment to USSF. In his ruling, he dismissed USWNT’s arguments that they were systematically underpaid by U.S. Soccer in comparison with the men’s national team. Judge Klausner did not rule about the USWNT’s claims about unequal treatment in other areas such as travel and team staffing, therefore a trial is tentatively scheduled for June 16 (both sides have filed a petition to postpone that trial).

Why: While USSF may have been victorious in a court of law, how much did they really win in the court of public opinion? The USWNT has been incredibly successful the past decade and has gained notoriety worldwide, whereas the U.S. Men’s National Team (MNT) have been underwhelming and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. However, the differences in each team’s pay structures (highlighted by the fact the women are not paid as much as the men) have been brought to light prompting activists and fans to question the motives of the USSF. To make matters worse, USSF had to fire their original counsel in March after they argued that the USWNT does not have a claim under the Equal Pay Act because the men and women’s team “do not perform equal work requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions.” Many of USSF’s biggest sponsors issued statements denouncing those words and the USWNT wore their warmup gear inside out before their game against Japan on March 11. Additionally, presidential candidate Joe Biden has said he would end funding to USSF if they continued to pay the women unequally.

What’s Next: Both sides have asked the Court to postpone the June 16th trial. USWNT has asked the Judge to grant final judgment on the pay discrimination claims so that they will be able to challenge the decision by filing an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. However, appeals do take time and USWNT’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with USSF is set to expire on December 31, 2021. If the two sides are still engaged in this legal battle, there is a slim chance a new CBA would be agreed upon which would jeopardize the future of the USWNT and the country’s hopes of sending a team to the 2023 Women’s World Cup. This would obviously be detrimental to everyone involved. Meanwhile, it is the current CBA that the USSF says is the reason the USWNT is paid differently: ““USWNT players are paid differently because they specifically asked for and negotiated a completely different contract than the men’s national team, despite being offered, and rejecting, a similar pay-to-play agreement during the past negotiations.” However, attorneys for USWNT have vehemently disputed these assertions by saying “In the most recent CBA negotiation, USSF repeatedly said that equal pay was not an option regardless of pay structure.” Despite these differences, a settlement could be on the horizon as new USSF president Cindy Parlow cone seeks détente as she believes it is a top priority to find a resolution.

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