In the midst of a five-game victory tour following their World Cup win, the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (USWNT) is also preparing for the 2020 Olympics and engaged in a heated legal battle with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for equal pay.
Now, representatives for the team say they have left a mediation process meant to avoid an appearance in federal court.
"We entered this week's mediation with representatives of USSF full of hope. Today, we must conclude these meetings sorely disappointed in the Federation's determination to perpetuate fundamentally discriminatory workplace conditions and behavior," Molly Levinson, a spokesperson for the USWNT says in a statement shared with CNBC Make It.
"It is clear that USSF, including its Board of Directors and President Carlos Cordeiro, fully intend to continue to compensate women players less than men. They will not succeed. We want all of our fans, sponsors, peers around the world, and women everywhere to know we are undaunted and will eagerly look forward to a jury trial."
According to The New York Times, representatives agreed to meet in secret in New York this week for mediation sessions that "were to be the most substantive face-to-face discussions between the team and the federation about equal pay and other workplace issues since they hammered out the details of the players' current collective bargaining agreement in April 2017."
After saying it would make no statements to the media about mediation, U.S. Soccer responded within hours, according to the Times, with its own statement.
"We have said numerous times that our goal is to find a resolution, and during mediation we had hoped we would be able to address the issues in a respectful manner and reach an agreement," U.S. Soccer said. "Unfortunately, instead of allowing mediation to proceed in a considerate manner, plaintiffs' counsel took an aggressive and ultimately unproductive approach that follows months of presenting misleading information to the public in an effort to perpetuate confusion."
The volley is just the most recent in a dispute that has spanned years.
In 2016, five U.S. women's players filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and in March, 28 members of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination and unequal pay.
But in June, sources confirmed that the team "tentatively" agreed to enter mediation with USSF after the World Cup ended, and as recently as Monday, the team felt optimistic about the mediation process.
"In the coming days, we will sit down with representatives of USSF to discuss equal pay and equal working conditions, and we are full of hope. We believe that this conversation with USSF is a singular opportunity to resolve our differences and to move forward together, unified," read a letter signed by USWNT players on August 12th.
The USWNT's lawsuit against the USSF claims that if the men's and women's teams won each of the 20 non-tournament games they are contractually required to play, women's team players would be paid roughly 38% of what the men would be paid. The USSF has refuted this claim.
The USWNT's lawsuit states that the Women's National Team Player's Association has proposed a revenue-sharing model, describing a proposal that would tie player compensation to revenue generated by the women's national team for USSF, which the men's national team supports.
According to the Times, no additional mediation sessions have been scheduled, and it seems likely players and the USSF will face off in federal court.
When representatives introduced legislation in July that would block federal funding for the 2026 Men's World Cup — which will be hosted, jointly, by Canada, Mexico and the U.S. — until the USSF pays the USWNT "fair and equitable wages," U.S. Soccer hired lobbyists to argue that the women's team is actually paid more than the men.
Levinson told Politico that the team was "stunned and disappointed" U.S. Soccer "would spend sponsor dollars and revenue to advocate against laws that ensure that women are paid equally to men." The men's national team said the move from U.S. Soccer was "disappointing but not surprising."
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