With the concussion related class action lawsuit consolidated and ongoing, the NFL was called back into Federal court in Louisiana this week on an unrelated matter. On July 5, 2012, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) sued the NFL over the suspension of several players for their alleged participation a bounty program, a scheme funded by players and coaches that offered monetary rewards for players who injured opponents. Three players from the New Orleans Saints – Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, and Will Smith – were suspended without pay by league commissioner Roger Goodell for participation in the scheme during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 NFL seasons.
In its complaint, the NFLPA asserts that the players were entitled to a “transparent, credible and fair” arbitration process under certain provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, and that certain actions taken by the league violated that entitlement outright.
First, it asserts that the league withheld key documents and witnesses, undermining the defense of the players in the arbitration process, making the end result “preordained.”
Second, the NFLPA felt that Goodell had no right to preside over the dispute, arguing that under the CBA, allegations of “pay-for-performance” misbehavior must be handled by the system arbitrator, not the league’s commissioner.
Third, the NFLPA felt that Goodell’s role as arbitrator was particularly inappropriate as he had waged a spirited public relations claim against the players involved in the alleged scheme, making it impossible for him to serve as an objective, neutral arbitrator. Previously, Goodell had publicly described the scandal as “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.”
Suspended Saints’ player Jonathan Vilma has also commenced a separate lawsuit against the League.