USWNT settles with U.S. Soccer over unequal working conditions — which sets stage for equal pay appeal

The United States women’s national team and its boss, the U.S. Soccer Federation, will not face off in court after all — at least for now.

The USWNT was set to take claims of unequal working conditions at U.S. Soccer to trial in January, but the two sides have reached a settlement, they announced Tuesday.

Both sides hailed the settlement as a positive step forward. The USWNT says it finally achieved long-denied equal working conditions, while U.S. Soccer says the settlement formalizes the already-ongoing efforts to repair its relationship with the USWNT.

“This settlement is good news for everyone and I believe will serve as a springboard for continued progress,” U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said in a statement.

But the settlement also sets the stage for the next phase of the ongoing legal fight between the players and the federation.

A settlement on equal pay, however, does not appear to be imminent.

In a conference call Tuesday, Parlow Cone said the $67 million in backpay sought by the USWNT would “bankrupt the federation.” But she said she remained hopeful there is a compromise.

“I hope that the women and their lawyers see that we are taking a new approach,” she said. “The way we reached this settlement [over working conditions] was in a collaborative way. There was a lot of back-and-forth in trying to understand where each side was coming from, so my hope is that we continue down this path and are able to find a resolution on all aspects of the litigation.”

The USWNT’s equal pay case is back in play

The settlement is unrelated to the USWNT’s allegations of wage discrimination, which were dismissed by a judge in May. The USWNT vowed to appeal that decision, but had to wait until after the trial over working conditions. Now that the two sides have settled, the USWNT will be able to move forward with its planned appeal on equal pay.

“We are pleased that the USWNT players have fought for — and achieved — long overdue equal working conditions,” said USWNT spokeswoman Molly Levinson in a statement. “We now intend to file our appeal to the court’s decision which does not account for the central fact in this case that women players have been paid at lesser rates than men who do the same job.

“We remain as committed as ever to our work to achieve the equal pay that we legally deserve. Our focus is on the future and ensuring we leave the game a better place for the next generation of women who will play for this team and this country.”

The USWNT has settled with U.S. Soccer over unequal working conditions, which means the focus will shift to the players' appeal of the equal pay decision that went against them in May. (Maurice Van Steen/ANP Sport via Getty Images)
The USWNT has settled with U.S. Soccer over unequal working conditions, which means the focus will shift to the players' appeal of the equal pay decision that went against them in May. (Maurice Van Steen/ANP Sport via Getty Images)

Mediation attempts over the equal pay claims have been unsuccessful so far. In August 2019, the players accused the federation of being unwilling to negotiate in good faith. The federation, meanwhile, accused the players of refusing to even meet in March of this year.

But U.S. Soccer, reacting to the working conditions settlement, took a hopeful tone that a resolution on the equal pay claims is possible.

“With today’s filing, the USWNT is likely to proceed with an appeal of the court’s ruling on May 1,” Parlow Cone said. “We hope today’s positive step forward will result in the USWNT accepting our standing offer to discuss contract options.

“As a former USWNT player, I can promise you that I am committed to equality between the USWNT and USMNT. My goal is, and has always been, to come to a resolution on all equal pay matters and inspire a new era of collaboration, partnership and trust between the USWNT and the federation.”

What the settlement achieves for the USWNT

The settlement includes the adoption of new policies for charter flights, venue selection, staffing and hotel accommodations.

Going forward, both teams will fly on the same number of charter flights, play at “top-tier venues” and “maintain comparable budgets” for hotels, the legal documents say. Both teams will also have support staff of between 18 to 21 federation employees.

Detailed terms of how these policies will be implemented, such as the venue selection process, are under court seal because they divulge “sensitive information” about “internal workings” of the team. The new policies will be folded into the USWNT’s collective bargaining agreement, which is not public but has been leaked.

The USWNT players had alleged U.S. Soccer booked them in inferior hotels to the men, flew the women on commercial flights while the men got charters, scheduled USWNT games on subpar fields and provided less staff to support the women’s team.

U.S. Soccer has said it had already remedied most of those claims, such as scheduling more charter flights for the women and ending the practice of scheduling USWNT games on artificial turf while the men always played on natural grass. From U.S. Soccer’s perspective, the settlement formalizes what the federation had already begun doing.

The USWNT side, however, says it would not have settled if it did not achieve equal workplace conditions that had otherwise not been provided or guaranteed.

“We achieved the assurances of equality in working conditions with the MNT that was the reason for filing the complaints about these working conditions,” Levinson told Yahoo Sports. “The proof is that if the MNT ever gets a better policy in these areas, the players have a right to substitute that, as well.”

In all instances, the legal filings state that U.S. Soccer will adhere to these new policies for “a minimum of four full years.” After that, “any subsequent changes to the policy shall be subject to collective bargaining with the USWNTPA.”

The USWNT’s current CBA expires at the end of 2021, and the men have been operating under a CBA that expired at the end of 2018.

“Our goal with both teams is to provide the best world-class services that we can and for it to be equitable,” U.S. Soccer CEO Will Wilson said in a conference call. “Obviously there’s differences between the men’s and women’s calendar, so what we contemplated is the structure that is equitable and provides flexibility for both teams.”

The settlement still needs to work its way through the legal system. The judge needs to approve the settlement, and because this is a class-action lawsuit, members of the class – other former USWNT players – must review the settlement and have a chance to raise any objections.

Once the settlement is finalized, the judge will then need to grant the USWNT permission to move forward with its appeal. The USWNT will have 30 days to file, and then it could take months for the appeal to be ruled on.

Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women’s national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.

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