PARIS >> The U.S. Soccer Federation and the 28 women’s national team players suing it for gender discrimination have agreed to begin a mediation process, representatives of both sides confirmed tonight.
The mediation is to begin as soon as possible after the women complete play in the Women’s World Cup, underway in France. The agreement may be the first sign that the long-running dispute between the players and the federation can be resolved outside federal court.
The agreement was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The 28 players — including stars like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd — sued U.S. Soccer in federal court in Los Angeles in March. Their complaint accused the federation, which governs soccer in the United States and runs the country’s national teams, of pay discrimination as well as discrimination related to the players’ medical treatment, their working conditions and even the surface they play on during matches.
The federation’s “ongoing policies and practices of intentional gender discrimination extend beyond pay and into nearly every aspect of plaintiffs’ and similarly situated WNT players’ work conditions,” the complaint said.
U.S. Soccer rejected the claims of discrimination in a response to the players’ lawsuit in May, but today, amid a dominant run by the team at the World Cup, it said, “We welcome the opportunity to mediate.”
The women’s working conditions, and much of their relationship with the federation, are dictated by a collective bargaining agreement the sides agreed to in 2017.
U.S. Soccer has contended that the women’s players signed off on everything in that agreement and that direct comparisons to the compensation and working conditions of the men’s national team are not valid because that team operates under a separate collective bargaining agreement.
Other factors that affect the pay of the national teams, such as the disparity in prize money between the men’s and women’s World Cups, are decided by FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, and thus out of U.S. Soccer’s control, the federation said.
Comparing the men’s and women’s teams can be quite difficult. The players from each team earn money and bonuses under different criteria and play a different number of competitive matches. Revenue for both teams can fluctuate significantly from year to year, and media rights agreements and sponsorships for the two teams are sold together, making it extremely difficult to separate out how much revenue each team generates.
Tension between U.S. Soccer and the women’s team is nothing new. In 2016, five players filed a wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying they were being shortchanged by U.S. Soccer on everything from pay and bonuses to appearance fees and per diem.
Frustrated with a lack of progress on that complaint, the players this year sought and obtained a so-called right to sue letter allowing them to pursue their claim in court. That led to the March lawsuit.
The U.S. women’s team has won all three of its group stage matches at the World Cup by a combined score of 18-0. It will take on Spain in a round of 16 match Monday in Reims, France; the tournament final is July 7 in Lyon.