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Judge rules in favor of USSF in CBA dispute with USWNT

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The USWNT won't be striking before the Olympics

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

District court judge Sharon Coleman ruled in favor of US Soccer today, granting their motion for summary judgment on the matter of whether the USWNT's collective bargaining agreement was extended by a memorandum of understanding.

Background

The USWNT Players Association bargains on behalf of the team, and had previously been represented by general counsel John Langel. Langel and USSF executed a CBA in 2006 that would last through the end of 2012. This CBA contained a no-strike clause, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Then in 2012, Langel on behalf of the PA entered negotiations for a new CBA with USSF. Several factors, such as the establishment of the National Women's Soccer League, created new complications in negotiations, and so the parties executed a Memorandum of Understanding as a sort of placeholder to tide them over until they could negotiate a new CBA, since everyone wanted a document settled on before NWSL launched. This MOU incorporated much of the old CBA, with adjustments for some specific items.

In 2014, Rich Nichols became general counsel for the PA, then told USSF in December of that year the team wanted to terminate the MOU and believed that it was not a valid CBA, which would allow them to terminate the MOU whenever the wanted.

Judge's ruling

The judge ruled that the MOU was a partially integrated contract, as opposed to being fully integrated, which means the MOU can be supplemented by other evidence as opposed to just looking within the document itself. The MOU has no integration clause, and the document itself has gaps that show it was intended to be supplemented by other documents, which is logical considering the MOU was meant to be a placeholder while USSF and the PA discussed other issues.

The ruling goes on to say that Langel did have the authority to bind the PA by agreeing that the MOU incorporated the CBA, and that Langel's testimony shows he told the players that they were agreeing to an MOU that did so. On the USSF side, their assumption that the players knew the deal and were operating under the assumption that the MOU incorporated the CBA was also kosher according to the court. Langel's communication with Sunil Gulati didn't give him a reason to think otherwise.

So: the MOU incorporated unmodified terms from the CBA, which included the no-strike clause, and Langel had the authority to execute it with USSF.

What's next

Basically, the USWNT now just continues on as it normally would have under the terms of the MOU until it expires at the end of the year. At that point they'll be able to negotiate a new CBA with US Soccer, hopefully this time with more of an eye to the future.

This case is unrelated to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission wage discrimination complaint they filed, which is still working its way through the court system.

A strike would have been enormous leverage for the USWNT with the Olympics on the horizon, but realistically, they probably wouldn't have actually gone through with it. It was a sharp sword to hang over USSF's head but with women's soccer only really getting two big chances for attention every four years, they couldn't afford to skip out on the Olympics without losing a significant amount of goodwill.

Was it all posturing spurred by a hotheaded new general counsel who thought he could try to get one over on USSF while making a big PR splash? Maybe. For now, we turn our attention to the Olympics and the continuing arguments in the EEOC case.

UPDATE: US Soccer has released a short statement on the ruling.