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USSF files answer denying USWNT gender discrimination claims

USWNT responds: “We look forward to a trial.”

68th FIFA Congress Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

The United States women’s national team filed a lawsuit against US Soccer earlier this year in March, alleging institutionalized gender discrimination. US Soccer has now responded, on Monday filing affirmative defenses to the issues raised in the complaint and maintaining that the decisions cited by the USWNT in their complaint were “for legitimate business reasons and not for any discriminatory or other unlawful purpose.”

USSF also includes in their arguments factors such as the teams having separate budgets, separate competitions, and huge differences in prize money. They reiterate that the men and women have different pay structures, although as we learned, the WNT offered to move from the salary-based model to a revenue-sharing model where they would earn more in years where USSF made more money and vice versa, but the federation declined. In a sharp reminder of USSF’s aspirational “One nation, one team” slogan, they claim:

“...the USWNT and USMNT are physically and functionally separate organizations that perform services for U.S. Soccer in physically separate spaces and compete in different competitions, venues, and countries at different times; have different coaches, staff, and leadership; have separate collective bargaining agreements; and have separate budgets that take into account the different revenue that the teams generate.”

USSF denies that they have perpetuated gender-based discrimination against the USWNT and claim that the WNT and MNT players “receive fundamentally different pay structures for performing different work under their separate collective bargaining agreements that require different obligations and responsibilities.”

This includes specifically denying that the WNT spends more time practicing and playing matches, in training camps, traveling, and doing media for the team than the MNT.

Another interesting note is that USSF denies that WNT players had “strikingly disparate” compensation for World Cup qualifiers compared to the men. The WNT complaint said that from March ‘13 to December ‘16, WNT players made $15k for being invited to try out for the World Cup team and making the roster, while MNT players made $55k for making the 2014 roster and would have made $68,750 if they had made it in 2018. USSF’s argument is that not all MNT players made that $55k in 2014 because not all of them made the roster, and not all MNT players would have made the $68,750 in 2018 because not all MNT players would have made that roster either. This would seem to mean that USSF believes because not all MNT players got a World Cup roster bonus due to not all players making the roster, it invalidates the women’s complaint that their roster bonus is significantly less than the men’s.

USSF denies other claims from the WNT complaint, such as that it books better flights for the MNT, partially due to restrictions from FIFA policies, that it books the women on inferior playing surfaces at a rate “far in excess” of the MNT, that it under-markets the women, and that this has impacted the WNT’s ticket sales. USSF also argues against some of the class action arguments, ostensibly to keep the players from being certified as a class.

In general, USSF denies that any of the complaints from the WNT filing had anything to do with gender, and that the federation has not violated any federal regulations. They argue against the damages requested by the WNT and also claim the WNT did not exhaust administrative remedies under Title VII (the federal law prohibiting gender-based discrimination on which the USWNT is basing its complaint). The Athletic’s Miki Turner has an excellent thread dissecting many of the particulars of the response.

A spokesperson for the USWNT players sent out a press release in response to the USSF filing.

“There is no legal basis for USSF’s claim that it is anything other than a single employer operating both the men’s and women’s teams -- who face drastically unequal conditions and pay under their shared employer. The USSF cannot justify its violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII by pointing to the teams’ separate collective bargaining agreements or any factor other than sex. Even as the most decorated American soccer team in history, USSF treats the women’s team as ‘less-than’ equal compared to their male colleagues. We look forward to a trial next year after the World Cup.”

It sounds like the WNT is ready to play chicken all the way to the courthouse, although odds aren’t bad that eventually the groups will settle after some negotiation or even third-party arbitration. This is still a possible distraction leading into the World Cup, which is now less than a month away. But the WNT seems to have had practice at compartmentalizing their legal struggles with USSF so that they can focus on winning, based on how much they’ve done it over the past several years.