U.S. Women's National Hockey Team Reaches Agreement with USA Hockey; Team Wins World Championship
The U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team made history with the help of a pro bono legal team from Ballard Spahr, which negotiated a labor contract with its national governing body, USA Hockey, that provides fair pay and equitable support for women’s and girls’ programs nationwide.
The story captured worldwide attention when the players—seven-time World Champions— announced that they would not defend their gold medals at the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship games, which the U.S. was hosting. The decision to boycott the games followed more than a year of stalled contract negotiations.
Partner Dee Spagnuolo and retired Partner John Langel led the Ballard Spahr team. They argued that the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act required USA Hockey to provide equitable support and encouragement for participation by women because it operated separate programs for male and female athletes nationally. The girls' development program was not remotely comparable to the $3.5 million, 60-game program that USA Hockey provided for the boys team each year. In addition, the women received inequitable support for equipment, staff, meals, travel, and publicity.
Nearly all of the players’ compensation outside of the Olympic period was paid by the U.S. Olympic Committee. USA Hockey provided the women’s team with $1,000 per month during the six-month Olympic residency period. During the remainder of the four-year period, USA Hockey paid them virtually nothing, despite its expectation that in each of the non-Olympic years, the players train full time and compete throughout the year.
The boycott was covered by media outlets worldwide, from ESPN and The New York Times to network news broadcasts and Sports Illustrated. Players' unions from The National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, National Football League, and the National Basketball Association issued statements of support for the team. Venerated athletes, including Billie Jean King, came out in favor of the women. And a group of 16 U.S. Senators publicly called upon USA Hockey to move toward an agreement providing equitable support.
After the boycott was announced, USA Hockey met with the players and the legal team to resume negotiations. The women did not report to training camp until their new contract was announced on March 28, 2017, only three days before the start of the World Championships—where they beat archrival Canada to win gold.
It was the fourth consecutive World Championship win for Team USA. But it was the players’ mettle off the ice made that made this victory so rewarding. While the details of the contract are confidential, both sides characterized it as a forward-looking agreement that addresses the players' three primary goals going into the 15-month negotiations: increased compensation, additional opportunities for the Women's National Team to compete, and improved PR and marketing. The agreement also addresses the topic of growing the sport for girls of ages.
"It's a storybook ending for us," said Hilary Knight, whose blazing overtime goal won the game. "I can't speak enough of the bond that we created, doing what we did, making history for the next generation."