Hope Solo’s derogatory comments about Sweden’s national women’s soccer team have earned her a six-month ban from U.S. Soccer and the termination of her contract. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati released a statement this week saying, “The comments by Hope Solo after the match against Sweden during the 2016 Olympics were unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our national team players.”  However, many are questioning whether Solo’s punishment for calling Swedish players “cowards” is too little and too late.

Despite her World Cup title, two Olympic gold medals, 202 national team appearances, and 102 clean sheets, Solo has long been a loose cannon with her outrageous behavior overshadowing her performance as a player.  As examples:

  • Solo was dismissed from the team during the 2007 World Cup after publicly criticizing her coach’s decision to bench her in the semifinals.
  • During the London Olympics in 2012, Solo criticized sports commentator Brandi Chastain, one of the team’s iconic former players.
  • In June 2014, Solo was charged with domestic assault after an incident involving her nephew and half-sister.
  • In January 2015, she was suspended from the team for 30 days following her husband’s arrest for driving under the influence in a U.S. Soccer van with Solo as his lone passenger.

Thereafter, Solo appeared to be trying to rehab her reputation and has also served as one of the faces of the team’s demands for equal pay compared to their male counterparts.  These efforts to salvage her reputation fell apart when Solo accused the Swedish players of being “cowards” following Sweden’s defeat of the U.S. team in the Olympics.

Given that the Olympics and the World Cup are now behind us, the suspension means Solo will be missing only some friendly matches for the U.S. team. Critics point out that the disciplinary action for relatively tame misconduct (compared to her past antics) comes at a time when the U.S. team has little to lose on the field and years to find another goalkeeper before the 2019 World Cup.  This leaves many questioning whether U.S. Soccer’s move is more symbolic than substantive.

As employment lawyers, we advise our clients to deal with disciplinary issues in a timely manner, be consistent, and document, document, document. Employers have additional risks of retaliation claims when the employee has recently engaged in some sort of protected activity, such as complaining of unlawful harassment or discrimination. With Solo’s sex discrimination charge still pending with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it remains to be seen whether she will be pursuing any sort of retaliation claim. Regardless, given her misconduct and the fact that her fellow charge filers have not suffered any adverse employment action, Solo would likely have an uphill battle on her hands.  In the meantime, give us your thoughts on U.S. Soccer’s decision.