A week after being charged in court with systemic gender-based discrimination in wages and other terms, the U.S. Soccer Federation responded Friday, with president Carlos Cordeiro defending the federation’s support of women’s soccer, expressing surprise over the lawsuit filed by 28 members of the World Cup-champion women’s team but promising to listen to their complaints going forward.
“In recent years, we have increased our investment in the USWNT program and worked in close partnership with the players to ensure they have everything they need to perform at the highest level,” Cordeiro wrote in an open letter in which he said the federation has increased the size of the support staff for the team, added additional charter flights, created two elite domestic tournaments and expanded development programs for female players.
“In addition, U.S. Soccer believes that all female athletes deserve fair and equitable pay, and we strive to meet this core value at all times.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District in Los Angeles on International Women’s Day on behalf of the 28 players on the national team, charges the federation with consistently paying members of the women’s team less than it gives players of the men’s team for doing the same job. It also alleges the women are subject to unequal support in other areas, including travel, training, promotion and “other terms and condition of employment.”
The U.S. women are three-time world champions who have drawn record television audiences in the U.S. The men, who this year have played before smaller crowds than the women, failed to qualify for the last World Cup and have not advanced past the quarterfinal round of the tournament since the inaugural event in 1930.
In 2016, five women’s national team players filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging the federation with wage discrimination. The women took that fight into negotiations for a new five-year collective bargaining agreement with the federation in 2017, winning raises for as much as 30% in base pay in addition to increased bonuses, improved travel benefits and control over some licensing and marketing deals.
Even before Cordeiro’s letter was released, the USSF had pushed back on some of the claims in last week’s suit, claiming many of the women’s complaints were addressed in the CBA. Players on the men’s and women’s team now receive equal per diems, the federation said; the women’s team has flown on charter flights seven times in 2018-19 to six for the men; and the same amount of money has been spent on promotion for the two teams.
“In April of 2017, we agreed to a fair and equitable collective bargaining agreement with the Women’s National Team, which included a contract structure that the players specifically requested to provide them with a guaranteed salary and benefits,” Cordeiro said in his letter. “At no point since that time have players raised concerns about the CBA itself, and we continue to work with them in good faith.
“U.S. Soccer has partnered with the USWNT in a sincere effort to listen, provide the very best resources possible to the team and its staff, and advance the women’s game on the field and in the marketplace. We were therefore surprised by the complaint filed last week.”
However, the lawsuit also quotes Cordeiro, a former USSF board member and vice president who, during the campaign that led to his election as federation president 13 months ago, said the women’s team needed to be respected and called for female players to be treated equally.
“We have worked very hard with the USSF, including the Federation’s new leadership, to make progress on these incredibly important gender equality issues,” national team player Christen Press said. “We appreciate and agree with Carlos Cordeiro’s public statements that more should be done. Despite this progress, the fact is that the pay disparity and unequal working conditions persists.”
The lawsuit has created unwanted friction between the federation and the women’s team less than three months before the start of this summer’s Women’s World Cup in France, where the top-ranked U.S. team will be defending the title it won four years ago in Canada.
Cordeiro said in his letter that he has reached out to the players to better understand their thoughts and concerns and expects to continue that dialogue leading up to this summer’s tournament.