Judge Sets May Trial Date in U.S. Women’s Soccer Lawsuit

The judge in the United States women’s soccer team’s gender discrimination lawsuit has set a May 5, 2020 trial date in the case, an accelerated timeline that could see the team’s bid for equal pay become entangled with its preparations for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

The date, set on Monday by Judge R. Gary Klausner of United States District Court for the Central District of California, is at least six months earlier than the players and U.S. Soccer, their employer and the defendant in the suit, had requested. Both the players and U.S. Soccer, which runs the national team and pays the salaries and bonuses of its players, had sought to delay the trial until later in the year in order to avoid both the Olympic tournament and the conclusion of the players’ domestic league seasons.

Instead, Judge Klausner set a date that is 11 weeks before the opening match of the Olympic women’s tournament. The United States still has to qualify for the Games, but most believe that is a formality: the squad, the reigning World Cup champion, has reached five of the six Olympic finals and has left with the gold medal four times.

Twenty-eight members of the United States player pool, including all of the team’s best-known active players, are plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, which was filed in March — only months before the team headed to France to defend the Women’s World Cup championship it had won in 2015. In their suit, the players said they were victims of “institutionalized gender discrimination” that affected everything from their paychecks and working conditions but also the way they traveled to matches and the hotels in which they slept.

The action, which could cost the federation millions of dollars in back pay, was the most recent, and most significant, escalation of an argument the team has made for years: that it is paid less than its men’s counterparts by U.S. Soccer, the governing body for the sport in the United States.

Even before the team sealed its second straight World Cup title in July, its players had used the tournament’s stage to marshal public support for their cause. When the Americans defeated the Netherlands in the final on July 7, fans in the stadium in Lyon chanted “Equal pay!” before the trophy ceremony. When the team was honored at a ticker-tape parade in New York three days later, the chant was repeated.

A spokeswoman for the players on Monday said the team was “eager to move forward” with a trial, but there remains a chance the sides could resolve the lawsuit before May. The players and the federation quietly held mediation sessions in New York last week in an effort to find common ground, but those talks quickly broke down, resulting in angry statements from each side.

Judge Klausner’s scheduling timeline, though, could spur another round of discussions. Despite the failure of last week’s mediation sessions, the players said they were open to new proposals, and U.S. Soccer said in its statement that “we are undaunted in our efforts to continue discussions.”

A resolution that avoids a trial could suit both sides, albeit for different reasons. The women’s players, while expressing confidence in their case, still have to prove it in court, and the fight already has come at considerable cost. The federation may be even more eager to put the equal pay fight behind it; it has taken a public-relations beating in the case, and more recently has faced pushback on the issue from some of its own sponsors.

U.S. Soccer and Equal Pay

Source: NYT

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