Molly Levinson

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USWNT file motion to appeal in equal pay fight

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The United States women’s national team has filed a motion in a bid to move along a judgment in their unequal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, and to delay the trial currently set for June 16.

The motion comes one week after the suit was dismissed by a judge in a blow for the USWNT.

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A judge favored the federation in a summary judgment, saying that the USWNT’s claim that they were being paid less than the USMNT was insufficient to warrant a trial.

The USMNT has backed its peers on the women’s side, and presidential candidate Joe Biden has also placed himself in their corner.

Here is a statement from Molly Levinson, spokesperson for the USWNT players in their lawsuit:

“Equal pay means paying women players the same rate for winning a game as men get paid. The argument that women are paid enough if they make close to the same amount as men while winning more than twice as often is not equal pay. The argument that maternity leave is some sort of substitute for paying women players the same rate for winning as men is not valid, nor fair, nor equal. The argument that women gave up a right to equal pay by accepting the best collective bargaining agreement possible in response to the Federation’s refusal to put equal pay on the table is not a legitimate reason for continuing to discriminate against them. Today, we are filing a motion to allow us to appeal immediately the district court’s decision so that the Ninth Circuit will be able to review these claims.”

We’ve written several times that a settlement to get this out of the news is an ideal move for the federation, who may be feeling a court victory is likely. New CEO Will Wilson inherited mess and could use good news in a big way but the fed is also reportedly struggling for cash.

New U.S. Soccer leadership: Settling USWNT’s lawsuit a priority

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NEW YORK — The newly installed president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Soccer Federation used their first news conference to state that settling a lawsuit filed by women’s national team players is a top priority.

“A lot of damage has been done, and I think we are going to have to rebuild that trust and rebuild the relationship. It is not going to happen overnight,” President Cindy Parlow Cone said Tuesday. “It’s going to take a lot of effort and time and energy from the U.S. Soccer side to rebuild that trust, not only with our U.S. women’s national team players, but with our fans and everyone engaged in the sport.”

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Players claim they have not been paid equally to the men’s national team and asked for more than $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A trial is scheduled for May 5 in federal court in Los Angeles.

“The solution here is clear, simple, and unequivocal: equal pay,” responded Molly Levinson, spokeswomen for the players.

In legal papers filed this month ahead of the trial, the USSF claimed the women’s team didn’t have the physical abilities or the same responsibilities as the men’s team. That sparked a furor that included an on-field protest by players wearing their warm-up jerseys inside out to hide the USSF crest. The outcry led to the resignation of USSF President Carlos Cordeiro and caused the federation to change its lead law firm.

Chief legal officer Lydia Wahlke has been placed on administrative leave, which was first reported Tuesday by ESPN. Parlow Cone said an outside firm has been retained to review USSF decision-making that led to the briefs “to see where that process broke down.” She hopes to schedule settlement talks.

“I don’t think a trial is good for either party or for soccer,” Parlow Cone said.

A 41-year-old World Cup and Olympic champion, Parlow Cone had been the USSF vice president before Cordeiro quit on March 12.

“The comments and the language in the last filing,” Parlow Cone said, “I think not only hurt our relationship with our women’s national team, but hurt women and girls in general, and as a former national player, they were personally hurtful to me.”

Will Wilson, a former MLS executive and the uncle of retired NFL quarterback Andrew Luck, was hired as chief executive officer Monday to replace Dan Flynn, who retired in September. The 52-year-old Wilson had been co-head of the NFL division of the Wasserman Media Group, which represents players.

“The wording, the comments in the filing were quite frankly shocking and very, very disappointing to me,” Wilson said.

Parlow Cone said she is part of the USSF’s board special litigation committee along with youth council representative Tim Turney and independent director Patti Hart. She said the committee was never given a chance to review the filings before they were submitted to the court.

“There was a fundamental error in our processes,” Parlow Cone said.

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She drew a distinction between this month’s filing and previous legal arguments by the federation.

“I think it’s one thing to argue that men and women play in different tournaments and play against different teams, and it’s altogether a different statement to say that therefore the women carry less responsibility or have less ability,” Parlow Cone said.

She said it was too soon to decide whether she would run next February to complete the final year of Cordeiro’s term. Parlow Cone also said the USSF is open to having the women and men negotiate together for a common labor deal, but that decision is up to the two unions under federal labor law.

Wilson, who said he received a multiyear contract, said it was not clear whether the postponement of the Olympics would cause Nike and other sponsors to decrease payments to the USSF this year. He is likely to take a role in organizing the 2026 World Cup, which the U.S. will co-host with Mexico and Canada.

In addition, the USSF faces antitrust suits by the promoter Relient seeking to allow foreign leagues to play in the U.S. and by the lower level North American Soccer League, which stopped play after 2017 and wanted a promotion-relegation system.

The U.S. men’s national team has been without a collective bargaining agreement since December 2018. Some federation staff complained about working conditions under Flynn and his No. 2, chief commercial and strategy officer Jay Berhalter – the brother of men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter. Jay Berhalter left the USSF last month when it became clear he would not succeed Flynn.

“Yes, there are issues. That’s obvious,” Wilson said. “But for me it was the fact that we had to address those and find resolutions, attack the culture and really create a place that people want to be and want to work.”

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner called off a March 30 hearing to decide summary judgment motions by each side and will issue his rulings based on the written submissions.

USWNT counters soccer federation’s assertions on pay

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U.S. Soccer was misleading when it asserted some players for the women’s national team made more money than their male counterparts, the women’s team players said in court documents filed Monday.

The players say in the documents that the men’s pay would have been far greater if they’d had the same success on the field as the women.

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The filing was a response to a U.S. Soccer motion opposing the players’ request to certify a lawsuit seeking equitable pay as a class-action. The women asked a court last month to include all players called up to the national team, which could increase the class to more than 50 players.

Twenty-eight players, including stars Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, were part of the original suit filed against U.S. Soccer in March alleging institutionalized gender discrimination that includes inequitable compensation between the men’s and women’s teams. A May 5 trial date has been set in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

The federation has maintained that compensation for each team is the result of separate collective bargaining agreements, and that the pay structures are different as a result. Men’s team players are paid largely by appearance and performance, while the contract for the women’s team includes provisions for health care and other benefits, as well as salaries in the National Women’s Soccer League.

U.S. Soccer further argued last week that four players – Morgan, Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn – were each paid more than the highest-paid player on the men’s national team in four years over the period between 2014 and 2019. The four earned more even when NWSL salaries weren’t included, the motion said.

U.S. Soccer said because those players made more, they lack the standing to represent a class.

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“The women chose to have a guaranteed salary of up to $172,500 per year, and in addition to this salary, they earn game and tournament bonuses, and receive a robust package of benefits. While the players on our men’s national team can earn larger bonuses, they take more risk as they do not receive any guaranteed money or benefits within their pay-for-play contract structure,” U.S Soccer said in a statement.

The women’s filing Monday said the only reason those four players were able to earn more was “they worked in far more games, had far greater success and thus were able to earn more money in salary and bonuses even under the indisputably discriminatory set of the USSF’s compensation policies.” It said this didn’t constitute equal pay.

The players’ response maintains that the four players were paid less than one-third of what a male counterpart would have made if the men’s team had been as successful over the same period.

“This is the very definition of gender discrimination, which is illegal. USSF has repeatedly tried to distort these figures – including by hiring lobbyists, creating PowerPoint presentations with false data, trying to blame FIFA, and purposely manipulating the equation. But the math is simple: when the rates from the men’s CBA are applied to each woman player’s record and performance, the results show an unmistakably large pay gap,” said Molly Levinson, who represents the players in matters surrounding the lawsuit.

The women’s team won this year’s World Cup in France and had additional games leading up to the tournament, including qualification matches. The women also won the World Cup in 2015. The team played in victory tour matches following those World Cup titles.

The men’s team, meanwhile, did not make the field for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and had fewer matches and therefore fewer call-ups and training camps from 2017-18. The team has also transitioned to new coach Gregg Berhalter, who was hired last December.

Women’s national team and U.S. Soccer intensify talks

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Talks between the U.S. women’s national team players and the U.S. Soccer Federation intensified over the weekend in the ongoing effort to reach a deal on a new contract.

The latest negotiations come on the heels of an agreement between USA Hockey and its women’s national team for better compensation following a threat by players to boycott the world championships. The Irish women’s national soccer team also said it would skip an upcoming international match in a labor dispute.

“There is no question that women athletes around the world are sending a strong message,” said Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association. “They are demanding fairness and equality and they are changing the game for the future.”

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The 2015 Women’s World Cup champions have been without a contract since Dec. 31. Talks were stalled when the players parted ways in late December with attorney Rich Nichols, who had been executive director of the USWNTPA since late 2014.

The players’ association has met numerous times with U.S. Soccer since the union brought in a new executive director and legal representation earlier this year.

The terms of the previous collective bargaining agreement remain in place unless either side files a 60-day notice of termination. Neither side has filed.

The latest negotiations come a year after a group of players filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the federation. The players maintained male national team counterparts earned far more than they did in many cases.

Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg and Christen Press were elected player representatives at the team’s January training camp. In February, Sauerbrunn expressed hope that a deal could be struck before the National Women’s Soccer league opens play this month.

U.S. Soccer pays the salaries of national team players in the NWSL and the terms are spelled out in the CBA with the federation.

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“I think the tone is really positive at this point,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe said earlier this year. “I think that we’re excited to collaborate with U.S. Soccer and hopefully get the best deal, not only for us but for them as well in this partnership going forward. I think we’re still very committed to the mission and the goals that we’ve had from the beginning for this CBA, and that’s to get a deal that fairly reflects the work we do on and off the field and our value on the market.”

The USSF has maintained that much of the pay disparity between the men’s and women’s teams results from separate collective bargaining agreements.

The women’s team had set up its compensation structure, which included a guaranteed salary rather than a pay-for-play model like the men, in the last labor contract. The players also earn salaries – paid by the federation – for playing in the NWSL.

The women receive other benefits, including health care, that the men’s national team players don’t receive, the federation has maintained.

The players’ EEOC complaint is still pending. On the anniversary of the filing last week, Rapinoe went to social media to both mark the occasion and support her hockey counterparts.

She posted: “On the 1 yr anniversary of the EEOC filing, we send best wishes to (hash)USWNT hockey in their (hash)2017WWC. Let’s (hash)changethegame (hash)beboldforchange.”

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Last week, just days before hosting the world championships, USA Hockey and the women’s national team reached an agreement to end their wage dispute and avoid a boycott on home ice.

The push for better wages and conditions extended Tuesday, which marked Equal Pay Day, to Ireland, where women’s national team players have threatened to boycott a match on Monday against Slovakia.

The players say they’re not compensated fairly by the Football Association of Ireland for the time they have to take off work to compete. They also want to be paid for matches and would like their own team apparel – something they currently share with youth players.