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Seyfarth Shaw Seeks Exit as U.S. Soccer Nixes Biology Defense

April 2, 2020, 12:51 PM

The U.S. Soccer Federation has clarified that it no longer will argue in the class pay discrimination suit by its women’s team players that the women don’t perform work requiring “equal skill, effort and responsibility” to men’s team players, California federal court records show.

The move comes less than three weeks after Latham & Watkins LLP formally joined the federation’s legal team amid a backlash over the inclusion of the argument in the parties’ competing motions for summary judgment in the closely watched case. Seyfarth Shaw LLP was U.S. Soccer’s counsel of record at the time. It sought court approval to withdraw from the case in a separate Wednesday filing.

U.S. Soccer argued in Feb. 20 and March 9 filings with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California that its women’s and men’s teams “play in fundamentally different worlds,” against competition with different levels of skill. “The overall soccer-playing ability required to compete at the senior men’s national team level is materially influenced by the level of certain physical attributes, such as speed and strength, required for the job,” the federation said.

Carlos Cordeiro, U.S. Soccer’s president at the time, resigned after the argument was blasted by the team as the epitome of sexism and was criticized by men’s players and sponsors, including Coca-Cola and Visa.

The April 1 joint stipulation filed by the federation and the women’s team clarified that U.S. Soccer has abandoned the argument. It also stated that U.S. Soccer was removing from its statement of uncontroverted facts excerpts from women’s player and class representative Carli Lloyd that the women’s team plays “a different game” from the men “in the sense that men are bigger, stronger, faster” and that “there’s no denying the science in that regard.”

U.S. Soccer also agreed not to challenge the testimony of former women’s coach Jill Ellis, included in the team’s statement of uncontroverted facts, that women’s and men’s players bring equal athleticism, “tactical IQs,” tactical proficiency, and mental fortitude to their sport.

All nine Seyfarth Shaw lawyers are seeking to withdraw from the case. They are Kristen M. Peters, Brian M. Stolzenbach, Chantelle C. Egan, Cheryl A. Luce, Ellen E. McLaughlin, Giovanna A. Ferrari, Kyllan B. Kershaw, Noah A. Finkel, and Sharilee K. Smentek.

The parties’ summary judgment motions otherwise remain pending.

Winston & Strawn LLP represents the women players. Latham & Watkins LLP represents U.S. Soccer.

The case is Morgan v. U.S. Soccer Fed’n, Inc., C.D. Cal., No. 2:19-cv-01717, 4/1/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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