Arguments behind latest legal sparks in U.S. women's suit

The Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association and U.S. Soccer filed briefs on Monday in their ongoing fight over whether they have a labor agreement that takes them through the end of 2016 or whether it expires at will, giving the players the power to strike and use that leverage to seek a new agreement before the Olympics.

UPDATE: Lawyers from both parties met in court for the first time on Tuesday. The Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association's motion to delay case was rejected.

The issue at hand is whether U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman should schedule an expedited hearing on U.S. Soccer's motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment is used when a plaintiff -- in this case, U.S. Soccer -- argues the facts in the case are straightforward and full trial is not needed. It has requested an expedited hearing, arguing that it will suffer irreparable damage if a decision isn't rendered quickly.

U.S. Soccer's position is that since it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Players Association in March 2013 all parties had been acting as though they had an agreement that would go through Dec. 31. The Players Association believes it is "terminable at will" and wants it to end on Feb. 24, three days after the Olympic qualifying tournament.

The Players Association argues the parties never got around to signing a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and if U.S. Soccer wanted such terms as the Memorandum of Understanding's expiration date or a no-strike clause it should have included them in the agreement.

The Positions:

PLAYERS ASSOCIATION:
1. U.S. Soccer dilly-dallied.

"USSF sat on its hands for over seven months and now rushes to the courthouse claiming an emergency exists. This Court should not countenance such disingenuous behavior."

The Players Association's position is that it repeatedly told U.S. Soccer, beginning in July 2015, that it did not believe a Collective Bargaining Agreement was in place, but U.S. Soccer didn't do anything about it until it filed suit last Wednesday.

The Players Association's position that the court should not reward U.S. Soccer for its delay is indeed the position FIFA used to hold off the international group of women's players who sought an expedited hearing on its request before an Ontario human rights tribunal to prevent the 2015 Women's World Cup from being played on artificial turf. Without that expedited hearing, any victory on the merits of the case would have come too late for anything to be done about it.

2. U.S. Soccer's claims are "alarmist."

"The asserted harms upon which this motion rests are entirely speculative. Further, even if the alleged harm was more than speculative, such harm is certainly not imminent."

The Players Association's position is that the players have never threatened to strike, so the economic harm U.S. Soccer could suffer and the sanctions it could face from FIFA for not sending a team to the Olympics are entirely speculative. The Players Association also argues that the Olympics aren't until August so there's plenty of time to hear the case.

3. U.S. Soccer used gamesmanship.

"USSF’s motion is filled with blatant inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and misleadingly incomplete quotations from the relevant record."

The Players Association says U.S. Soccer selectively quoted from statements by former Players Association executive director John Langel and colleague Ruth Uselton to support U.S. Soccer's case that Players Association was going on as though there was an agreement.

If that's the case, the Players Association argues that U.S. Soccer doesn't deserve to get rushed service on its case.

4. U.S. Soccer's position that it can't lose is "fiction."

"The facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed."

The Players Association presents as evidence a statement in U.S. Soccer's 2015 financial statements: “The Women’s National Team CBA expired on December 31, 2012. There is currently a signed Memo of Understanding in place while the full details of the new Women’s National Team CBA are being negotiated.” It argues that this statement alone creates a genuine issue of material fact, dooming the Federation's motion for summary judgement.

U.S. SOCCER:
1. Players Association's letter escalated situation.

"It was not until Christmas Eve 2015 that the Players Association officially stated its position in writing and notified U.S. Soccer that it was terminating the CBA and providing U.S. Soccer with notice of its right to 'engage in actions' starting in 60 days -- February 24 -- which is just two weeks away."

U.S. Soccer argues that the Players Association's refusal to agree not to strike prior to the Summer Olympics escalated the situation to one of urgency.

2. Players Association's argument that case is complex is wrong.

"The only question in this case is whether the parties who negotiated and executed the Memorandum of Understanding on March 19, 2013, intended to enter into a CBA with a four-year term expiring on December 31, 2016, consisting of the terms of the prior CBA as amended and modified by the MOU."

U.S. Soccer's position is that only two issues remained to be negotiated, but the Players Association and it had otherwise agreed to a new four-year CBA.

3. Players Association ignores possible damage in March.

"In suggesting there is no harm in waiting because the Summer Olympics are still months away, the Players Association completely ignores the potentially significant and damaging impact a strike or other job action could have."

U.S. Soccer refers to the “She Believes” tournament in March, training camps and games before the Olympics and the NWSL, whose preseason starts in March.

4. Players Association should favor early resolution.

"The Players Association’s request for delay is akin to saying to this Court: 'We know pointing a loaded gun at U.S. Soccer’s head to get a better deal than we have is wrong, but we are asking you to turn a blind eye for a while so we can continue to point the gun and see what we can get.'"

U.S. Soccer states that if the Players Association really thinks it will win, a resolution of the case is very much in Players Association's best interest as it would give it leverage and the ability to pressure U.S. Soccer to reach a new agreement. But U.S. Soccer argues that the Players Association isn't certain it will win and wishes to use the threat of an illegal strike to leverage U.S. Soccer.

Note: Italics are taken from briefs filed on Monday and in a few cases edited slightly for clarity.
3 comments about "Arguments behind latest legal sparks in U.S. women's suit".
  1. Wooden Ships, February 9, 2016 at 8:08 p.m.

    Is this simply a legal determination, language interpretation? Maybe, but it rely shines the light on what the USSF thinks of our women soccer players. Not unlike FIFA too. Do we also, not have more girls playing than boys, I know that's the case in college? Looks like a losing public relations position for the USSF.

  2. Miguel Dedo, February 9, 2016 at 8:16 p.m.

    I do not care what the facts and legalities are, I hope the players -- women --win the suit.

  3. Allan Lindh, February 10, 2016 at 4:20 p.m.

    They are better than the men's team, they win World titles, they draw better crowds, they are smarter and better ambassadors for the game. It's a no-brainer, pay them what the men get, same bonuses, all the perks. Only question is whether they should be getting more than the men, whose performance is pretty pitiful.

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