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New U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone: Offensive ‘legal filing was an error’

Cindy Parlow Cone, Portland Thorns FC coach
Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer

U.S. Soccer’s final brief in a request for summary judgement, in the United States women’s national team’s equal pay lawsuit against the federation, presents a marked change of tone from last week’s charged filings which ultimately led to the resignation of Carlos Cordeiro as president.

Cindy Parlow Cone, who assumed the president role from her VP position upon Cordeiro’s resignation on Thursday, said in a statement that “last week’s legal filing was an error.” That referenced legal filing by U.S. Soccer, submitted on March 9, argued that the women’s national team did not perform equal work to the men’s national team because male athletes possess more speed, strength and skill. The charged sexist tone of the filings brought significant backlash from sponsors, stakeholder and — on Wednesday — U.S. players, who protested the federation by turning their training tops inside out ahead of a match against Japan. One day later, Cordeiro announced his resignation.

Cordeiro’s exit doesn’t solve U.S. Soccer’s leadership void, lawsuit positioning

Monday’s latest legal filings from U.S. Soccer exclude both the legal argument and the offensive language from last week. “That language neither represents my position nor the view of the federation,” reads the statement issued by Parlow Cone, a former Olympic and World Cup champion with the U.S. national team. The new U.S. Soccer president offers a more collaborative tone in her first statement regarding the equal pay lawsuit:

“The WNT is the most successful soccer team in the world. As it relates to the lawsuit filed by the women, I offer the perspective of a former player. I know how important it is for both the Federation and the players to move beyond this and keep working together on what unites us. We only have one Federation and one senior Women’s National Team. We have to work together and move forward in a positive manner toward what I know are mutual goals, growing the game and winning.”

Latham & Watkins, who had previously worked with U.S. Soccer, will now be the federation’s lead counsel moving forward.

Four stars only: How USWNT players’ protest further proved the power of their brand

Still, the removal of the offensive language from the latest filings doesn’t retract them the case, as the players’ counsel points out. Cordeiro’s apology and resignation “do not erase the impact of USSF’s admitted motivations, which demonstrate, as a matter of law, that Plaintiffs’ sex was at least ‘a basis’ under the EPS and a ‘motivating factor’ under Title VII for USSF’s pay discrimination,” the players’ latest filing reads. It continues: “That is all that is needed for Plaintiffs to prevail.”

Monday’s legal filings offered much of the same arguments which have been pushed throughout the year-long legal battle. U.S. Soccer contends that the pay structures for the men’s and women’s national teams are different based on different collective bargaining agreements that each of the teams negotiated. The women’s team oped for guaranteed salaries over the men’s team’s high-risk, high-reward model.

U.S. Soccer says that the women’s team has “been paid more total compensation in the aggregate in the past five years, as well as more on average per game than the men’s national team.” The federation references a payments figure that’s north of $37 million for the past five years for the women and $21 million for the men.

Players’ counsel has long argued that the federation has skewed numbers, including by adding National Women’s Soccer League salaries into the total number for compensation of women’s players when the NWSL requires separate work.

U.S. Soccer argues in Monday’s filing that even when removing payments for the 2015 World Cup victory tour and payments to the U.S. women through the NWSL, U.S. soccer paid more to the women. The federation also argues that more was paid on a “per game basis” — $220,747 per game to the women and $212,639 per game to the men.

In Monday’s filings, the federation argues that differences in men’s and women’s bonuses reflect choices mad in collective bargaining and historical differences in revenue generated by the men’s and women’s teams (which has shifted more in recent years as the women’s team’s celebrity has grown as back-to-back World Cup champions and the men’s team’s status has dwindled after missing the 2018 World Cup).

U.S. Soccer makes these arguments to spell out the idea that there are multiple reasons why compensation looks different for the men’s and women’s teams, and that under the Equal Pay Act, there cannot be a violation when any differences in compensation reflect “a differential based on any other factor than sex.”

Players’ counsel pushes back by further drilling down on last week’s charged language, calling it “the worst stereotyped justifications for gender discrimination.”

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