The United States Soccer Federation and its World Cup champion women’s team said Tuesday that they had resolved the players’ outstanding claims about working conditions, a rare moment of détente — and mutual happiness — in the sides’ long-running legal fight about equal pay.
The agreement, filed in federal court in California, is equal parts labor peace and legal maneuvering. By removing one of the last unresolved items in the team’s wage-discrimination lawsuit, U.S. Soccer and its new leadership team rid themselves of one more point of contention in a dispute they would prefer to see end.
For the players and their lawyers, the deal brings opportunity: In dispensing with their claims about unequal working conditions, the women’s stars cleared the way to appeal a ruling in May that had rejected most of their equal pay claims.
U.S. Soccer’s president, Cindy Parlow Cone, hailed the agreement, saying it signaled the federation’s efforts “to find a new way forward” with the women’s team and, hopefully, a way out of the rest of the litigation.
“This settlement is good news for everyone,” Cone said, “and I believe will serve as a springboard for continued progress.”
The agreement on working conditions codified an effort that U.S. Soccer had already begun to remove any differences in areas like staffing, travel, hotel accommodations and related issues when men’s and women’s national team players are in camp. U.S. Soccer said it would put the agreement into effect immediately.
The deal does not address past working conditions or involve any payments to the women’s players, according to a U.S. Soccer official familiar with the agreement. But in resolving the players’ claims of workplace discrimination, it will allow the players to refocus on overturning the ruling on their equal pay claims. That effort, if successful, could be worth tens of millions of dollars in back pay and damages.
“We are pleased that the USWNT players have fought for — and achieved — long overdue equal working conditions,” Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the players, said in a statement. “We now intend to file our appeal to the court’s decision, which does not account for the central fact in this case that women players have been paid at lesser rates than men who do the same job.
“We remain as committed as ever,” Levinson added, “to our work to achieve the equal pay that we legally deserve.”
The women’s players and U.S. Soccer have been plotting a path forward in their relationship since May, when a federal judge, R. Gary Klausner of United States District Court for the Central District of California, delivered a crushing blow to the players’ equal pay arguments.
In his ruling, Judge Klausner not only dismissed the players’ contention that they were systematically underpaid by U.S. Soccer in comparison with men’s national team players, but he also said the federation had substantiated its argument that the women’s team had actually earned more “on both a cumulative and an average per-game basis” than the men’s team during the years at issue in the lawsuit.
The ruling was a significant, though unpopular, victory for U.S. Soccer. The players — stars like Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and others — are some of the federation’s most popular and highest-paid employees, and they had embraced the equal pay fight. Using their years of media training, their popularity and their huge social media followings, they have worked effectively since going public with their fight nearly five years ago to bring fans and, critically, federation sponsors to their cause.
The new agreement on working conditions is expected to be included in the new collective bargaining agreements for both national teams, along with triggers that would automatically make reciprocal any gains by either side in future negotiations.
The teams have long had separate unions, separate collective bargaining agreements and separate compensation structures — it is part of the reason they are paid differently and, the women argue, unfairly — but those deals are still to be ironed out. The men’s agreement expected at the end of 2018. The current women’s C.B.A. runs out at the end of 2021.