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U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone prioritizes settling USWNT lawsuit, rebuilding trust

The president said it’s an immediate priority for the federation to resolve the lawsuit in order to move forward with the women’s national team.

New U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said she is determined to settle the Equal Pay Act lawsuit with the women's national team and begin rebuilding the players' trust in the U.S. Soccer Federation. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone says it’s a priority for the federation to resolve its ongoing Equal Pay Act lawsuit with the women’s national team before it goes to trial.

The two parties are not scheduled for any formal settlement meetings. However, Parlow Cone said she will focus on the resolution of the suit during her first few weeks as U.S. Soccer president in order to start rebuilding trust between the federation and the women’s national team.

“I think that’s one of our top priorities right now,” Parlow Cone said during a phone conference on Tuesday. “I don’t think the trial is good for either party or for soccer, both in this country or internationally. Obviously our women’s team is the best team in the world and I’m hopeful that we can find a resolution before this goes to trial.”

The women’s national team players previously set their settlement price in February, requesting just under $67 million in back pay and damages.

U.S. women’s national team representative Molly Levinson issued a short statement in response to Parlow Cone’s hopes of reaching a settlement soon.

“The solution here is clear, simple and unequivocal,” Levinson said. “Equal. Pay.”

The U.S. women’s national team originally filed the lawsuit in March 2019. During the past year, the U.S. Soccer Federation has defended its current pay structure, standing behind the argument the women’s and men’s teams are separate entities who perform different work. Through this argument, the federation claims the pay disparity stems from their separate collective bargaining agreements and not from discrimination based on gender.

After months of contentious depositions, the dispute came to a head when blatantly sexist language from the federation’s legal team was filed in a court brief on March 4 during the SheBelieves Cup. In the court filing, U.S. Soccer lawyers argued the U.S. men’s national team possessed greater skill than the women.

Within 24 hours — following a pre-game protest by the women’s national team and outcry from sponsors, fans and former players — U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro resigned, thrusting Parlow Cone into a role she says she wasn’t angling to land.

As one of members of the committee supervising the litigation, Parlow Cone said she never saw the language in the most recent filing before it became public. She said the other two members of the committee — vice chair of U.S. Youth Soccer Association Tim Turney and independent director Patti Hart — were similarly left in the dark.

Parlow Cone describes it as a “fundamental error” in the federation’s internal process and said she has hired an outside firm to conduct an investigation to determine how it was submitted without review.

Rebuilding the relationship with U.S. women’s national team players and fans will be a long road for the federation. Players such as USWNT star Megan Rapinoe say the language in the filing reflects “undertones and undercurrents” of discrimination that players feel have always existed in the federation.

Early attempts to rebuild that relationship — such as the apology released by Cordeiro — were met with distrust and disbelief by many women’s national team players.

“That wasn’t for us,” Rapinoe said in March in response to the apology. “That was for fans, that’s for the media, that’s for sponsors. That all sounded pretty similar to what we’d heard before. You want to talk about hostility? Every negotiation that we had, those undertones were there that we’re lesser… and that’s obviously the reason that we filed this lawsuit. We don’t buy it. That wasn’t for us at all. That was for everyone else.”

Parlow Cone said settling the lawsuit is the first of many steps required to repair the relationship between the U.S. Soccer and the women’s national team.

“Settling this dispute is only the first step,” Parlow Cone said. “The next step is a long process. I think a lot of damage has been done and I think we are going to have to rebuild that trust and rebuild that relationship and it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Although Parlow Cone says she felt “personally hurt” and “very angry” when she read the language in the controversial filing, she supports of the overall argument presented by the U.S. Soccer legal team.

Parlow Cone disavowed any language that suggested female athletes have less skill or talent than male players. However, she said she fully backs the current argument and does not believe the women’s national team was underpaid based on discrimination.

“I think it’s one thing to argue that men and women play in different tournaments and play against different teams, and it’s an all together different statement to say that therefore the women carry less responsibility or have less ability,” Parlow Cone said.

U.S. Soccer and the women’s national team are currently set to go to trial on May 5, giving the two parties six weeks to reach any sort of settlement.

However, the spread of the coronavirus pandemic has already forced the two sides to delay several depositions. Parlow Cone said the continued need for social distancing could further delay the settlement process and could possibly delay the trial date itself.

Regardless of logistical concerns, the president said she will begin speaking with women’s national team players and their representatives about settlement options in the coming weeks.

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