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After Breakdown in Mediation Talks, USWNT Lawsuit Likely Heading to Federal Court

SI obtained a letter USWNT players sent to the U.S. Soccer board Monday, although mediation talks broke down and the lawsuit is likely headed to trial.
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Two days of mediation talks between U.S. Soccer and the U.S. women’s national team playes broke down in New York City on Wednesday, and the players’ side said as a result their gender-discrimination lawsuit against the federation would now head back to the court system.

“We entered this week’s mediation with representatives of USSF full of hope,” the players’ spokesperson, Molly Levinson, said in a statement. “Today we must conclude these meetings sorely disappointed in the federation’s determination 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. They will not succeed. We want all of our fans, sponsors, peers around the world, and women everywhere to know we are undaunted and will eagerly look forward to a jury trial.”

A U.S. Soccer spokesperson issued a statement: “We have said numerous times that our goal is to find a resolution, and during mediation we had hoped we would be able to address the issues in a respectful manner and reach 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.”

“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. Despite inflammatory statements from their spokesperson, which are intended to paint our actions inaccurately and unfairly, we are undaunted in our efforts to continue discussions in good faith.”

In June, the two sides agreed to mediation as an alternative to using the court system, but the possibility always remained that if mediation didn’t work out, the case would move back into the courts.

In recent weeks, U.S. Soccer has gone public with what it claims is evidence that the federation paid more to the women’s national team than to the men’s national team over the past 10 years. The players unions of the WNT and even the MNT disputed those figures. What’s more, as reported by Politico, U.S. Soccer hired Washington lobbyists to try and persuade lawmakers and presidential candidates on the figures that it had released publicly.

Those actions by the federation no doubt hardened the players’ resolve heading into this week’s mediation.

A source familiar with the situation said multiple veteran U.S. players and multiple high-ranking officials from U.S. Soccer took part in the mediation over the past two days. On Monday, the players also sent a letter (attached) to the U.S. Soccer board telling the story from their perspective of labor negotiations over the years.

If the case goes back into the court system, it would trigger a period of discovery that would be unlikely to be in the interests of U.S. Soccer. At the same time, the players (who are winning in the court of public opinion) would face a real risk in the court system that winning their case would not be a slam dunk.

It’s certainly possible, though, that both sides may still be posturing ahead of a potential settlement that would avoid having the case go back into the courts.