As a different set of lawyers took over for the U.S. Soccer Federation, new USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone disavowed papers submitted by the previous attorneys who argued women’s national team players had lesser skills and responsibilities than their male counterparts.
Parlow Cone took over as head of American soccer’s governing body last week when Carlos Cordeiro abruptly resigned because of the backlash over the documents, submitted by the USSF as it defended a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by women’s national team players.
Seyfarth Shaw had represented the federation since the suit was filed in March 2019. Latham & Watkins replaced it in Monday’s night’s filing, made simultaneously with a statement by Parlow Cone, a former World Cup and Olympic champion for the U.S.
“Last week’s legal filing was an error,” Parlow Cone said. “It resulted from a fundamental breakdown in our internal process that led to offensive assertions made by the federation that do not represent our core values.”
Both sides have moved for summary judgments, asking U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner to decide in their favor without a trial, currently scheduled for May 5. They filed final documents associated with those requests late Monday night.
Parlow Cone, who had been the federation’s vice president since last year, became the first woman president in the USSF’s 107-year history. She struck a conciliatory tone.
“The WNT is the most successful soccer team in the world. As it relates to the lawsuit filed by the women, I offer the perspective of a former player. I know how important it is for both the federation and the players to move beyond this and keep working together on what unites us,” she said. “We only have one federation and one senior women’s national team. We have to work together and move forward in a positive manner toward what I know are mutual goals, growing the game and winning.”
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.
The federation’s claims in court documents that the women’s team didn’t have the physical abilities or the same responsibilities as the men’s team drew criticism from sponsors, including The Coca-Cola Co. and The Proctor & Gamble Co., as well as MLS Commissioner Don Garber, a USSF board member.
The outcry prompted Cordeiro to issue an apology last week while the women’s team was playing Japan in the SheBelieves Cup. The women protested by wearing their warmup jerseys inside out before the game — obscuring the U.S. Soccer crest but still showing the four stars symbolizing the team’s World Cup victories.
“These assertions are based on pernicious stereotypes, are devoid of any factual support in the record, and are so imbued with discriminatory animus that then-President Carlos Cordeiro apologized for them on behalf of USSF and resigned his post,” lawyers for the players wrote in their filing Monday. “But his actions do not erase the impact of USSF’s admitted motivations, which demonstrate, as a matter of law, that plaintiffs’ sex was at least `a basis’ under the EPA and `a motivating factor’ under Title VII for USSF’s pay discrimination.”
Players countered U.S. Soccer’s claims they are paid less because the FIFA prize money for the men is far greater than the funds for the women.
FIFA awarded $400 million for the 2018 men’s World Cup, including $38 million to champion France — the U.S. men failed to qualify. It allocated $30 million for last year’s Women’s World Cup, including $4 million to the U.S. after the Americans won their second straight title. FIFA has increased the total to $440 million for the 2022 men’s World Cup and FIFA President Gianni Infantino has proposed FIFA double the women’s prize money to $60 million for 2023.
The players maintain that FIFA pays bonuses to national federations, and each makes its own deal with its players.
The USSF has said pay for the two teams is structured differently because of distinct collective bargaining agreements. The men’s team is paid by appearance and performance, while the women also draw salaries and have benefits.
The federation claims the women have been collectively paid $37 million to $21 million for the men’s national team over the past five years. The women’s team has played in more matches and has been more successful during that time frame, winning consecutive World Cup titles. The men failed to make the field for the 2018 World Cup.
“What equality requires is the same opportunity to earn as much as the men. This opportunity has been repeatedly denied,” said Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the players who sued. “USSF also returns to its false argument that the women players chose other benefits over equal pay in bargaining.
“The women players sought equal pay and USSF refused. This is also not a defense to an equal pay violation,” she added. “These are times for unity, not division. USSF should stop trying to change the conversation and just change. Pay women players equally.”
Latham & Watkins defended the USSF in a wage discrimination complaint filed by women’s players in 2016 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.