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Women's Football Parlow Cone attempts to mend bridges with disgruntled players

THE newly installed president and chief executive officer of the US Soccer Federation (USSF) used their first news conference to state that settling a lawsuit filed by women’s national team players is a top priority.

“A lot of damage has been done, and I think we are going to have to rebuild that trust and rebuild the relationship. It is not going to happen overnight,” said president Cindy Parlow Cone. “It’s going to take a lot of effort and time and energy from the US Soccer side to rebuild that trust, not only with our US women’s national team players but with our fans and everyone engaged in the sport.”

Players claim they have not been paid equally to the men’s national team and asked for more than $66 million (£56.3m) in damages under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A hearing is scheduled for May 5 in federal court in Los Angeles.

“The solution here is clear, simple and unequivocal: equal pay,” responded Molly Levinson, spokeswomen for the players.

In legal papers filed this month ahead of the trial, the USSF declared that the women’s team didn’t have the physical abilities or the same responsibilities as the men’s team. That sparked a storm that included an on-field protest by players, wearing their warm-up shirts inside-out to hide the USSF crest. The outcry led to the resignation of then USSF president Carlos Cordeiro and caused the federation to change its lead law firm.

Chief legal officer Lydia Wahlke has been placed on administrative leave, which was first reported on Tuesday by ESPN. Parlow Cone said an outside firm has been retained to review USSF decision-making that led to the briefs “to see where that process broke down.” She hopes to schedule settlement talks.

“I don’t think a trial is good for either party or for soccer,” Parlow Cone said.

A 41-year-old World Cup and Olympic champion, she had been USSF vice-president before Cordeiro quit on March 12.

“The comments and the language in the last filing,” Parlow Cone said, “I think not only hurt our relationship with our women’s national team but hurt women and girls in general and, as a former national player, they were personally hurtful to me.”

Will Wilson was hired as chief executive officer on Monday to replace Dan Flynn, who retired in September. The 52-year-old Wilson had been co-head of the NFL division of the Wasserman Media Group, which represents players.

“The wording, the comments in the filing were quite frankly shocking and very, very disappointing to me,” Wilson said.

Parlow Cone said that she is part of the USSF’s board special litigation committee, along with youth council representative Tim Turney and independent director Patti Hart. She said that the committee was never given a chance to review the filings before they were submitted to the court.

“There was a fundamental error in our processes,” Parlow Cone said.

She drew a distinction between this month’s filing and previous legal arguments by the federation.

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

She said it was too soon to decide whether she would run next February to complete the final year of Cordeiro’s term. Parlow Cone also said the USSF is open to having the women and men negotiate together for a common labour deal, but that decision is up to the two unions under federal labour law.

US District Judge Robert Gary Klausner called off a March 30 hearing to decide summary judgement motions by each side and will issue his rulings based on the written submissions.

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