The United States Soccer Federation has hired a new chief legal officer, the latest change for the organization following criticism over its arguments in a $67 million pay discrimination lawsuit filed by women’s national team players.
Karen Leetzow, formerly general counsel for auto racing circuit Nascar Holdings Inc., will join U.S. Soccer in early August. She comes aboard as the federation continues to fight litigation filed by Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and other prominent female players.
Leetzow replaces Lydia Wahlke, who was placed on administrative leave in March and later resigned, a development that occurred after U.S. Soccer suggested in a court filing that top women players are less skilled than their men counterparts. The federation eventually dropped that defense and switched the outside legal team representing it in the case.
“Karen brings a vast amount of expertise and broad legal background to U.S. Soccer, and she’ll immediately be a valuable addition to our team,” said U.S. Soccer CEO Will Wilson in a statement.
U.S. Soccer, a Chicago-based nonprofit that serves as the country’s governing body for the global sport, was slammed by players and observers for arguing that it paid men players more than women because the male version of the sport requires more skill and has different physical attributes.
In May, a federal court in Chicago threw out the pay discrimination portion of the case against U.S. Soccer, but allowed other claims that women players were subject to lesser travel conditions and inferior medical and training support. A trial in the case has been pushed back to January because of the coronavirus pandemic.
U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe said in May that Wahlke would remain a consultant to the federation through Sept. 15.
“We would like to thank Lydia for all her hard work and dedication during her time with U.S. Soccer, and wish her the best in her future endeavors,” Buethe said.
Wahlke didn’t respond to requests for comment.
U.S. Soccer’s most recent federal tax filing for 2017-18 shows it paid nearly $2.5 million in legal fees to Latham and $357,089 to Pepper Hamilton. Wahlke received more than $211,000 in total compensation during that fiscal year after taking over from former U.S. Soccer general counsel Lisa Levine, who took home roughly $232,000.
Earlier this year another former U.S. Soccer general counsel, Alison Kocoras, returned to the organization as SafeSport administrator.
Kocoras, a former Winston & Strawn associate, served as general counsel for U.S. Soccer from 2001 to 2004 and its director of human resources from 2007 to 2010. Reached at home by Bloomberg Law in April, Kocoras declined to discuss her new position. Buethe said she returned to do part-time work for the federation.