Rapinoe hoping for settlement but holding ground in discrimination suit

(Reuters) - U.S. women’s national team standout Megan Rapinoe said she’s “optimistic” that she and her fellow players can reach an agreement in their gender discrimination suit against U.S. Soccer, but that they’re also ready for a fight.

Soccer Football - Women's World Cup Final - United States v Netherlands - Groupama Stadium, Lyon, France - July 7, 2019 Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. celebrates winning the golden ball REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

“I’m always open, I think the team is always open for a settlement,” Rapinoe told Reuters on Tuesday, a day before a Women’s Sports Foundation gala at which she and her 2019 World Cup-winning squad were set to be honored.

“I don’t think anyone really ever wants to go to trial or to take this thing to that level. But obviously if we have to, we will,” said Rapinoe, who won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball at this year’s World Cup.

“We’re not willing to compromise on what we know is right and what we know we deserve and have already earned.”

The now four-times World Cup championship-winning team sued U.S. Soccer in March, alleging gender discrimination in earnings and working conditions, reigniting the issue of gender pay equity around the world.

Mediation between the two parties fell apart in August, and earlier this month the team pushed back in a court filing against claims by U.S. Soccer that some members earn more than their male counterparts, as they argued for class action status.

Now, with a trial date set for May 2020, the team faces the prospect of preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Games with a bruising legal battle hanging over Olympic preparations.

“It’s certainly not ideal and it will take attention away and energy and effort away from what our actual job is, which is to play,” said Rapinoe. “This team also is very good at multitasking and taking a lot on its plate at all times.

“Obviously we just went to the World Cup having filed the lawsuit a couple months before and having to deal with that pressure.”

U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment but has repeatedly defended its support for the women’s team in the past.

Rapinoe next plays on Sunday, when her team Reign FC face the North Carolina Courage in a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) semifinal.

And for the 34-year-old Californian, who battled back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament at the end of 2015, the chance to win her first NWSL championship during a World Cup-winning year is a tantalizing prospect after a “long journey back” from injury and doubt.

“We all really enjoy going back to our respective club teams and having that rivalry with the other teams,” said Rapinoe. “I’ve been to two finals and I haven’t won one yet so it’s kind of on the bucket list.”

Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Sam Holmes