Lane Johnson Fights to Keep Suit Against NFL and NFLPA Alive

On January 16, 2019, Lane Johnson, a right tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles, fought a motion for summary judgment in his case against the NFL and the NFLPA. Johnson argues that an arbitrator who handled an appeal in his 10-game Performance Enhancing Drug policy suspension, failed to disclose a conflict of interest. Back in 2016, Johnson filed his lawsuit after an arbitration proceeding which upheld his 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.

Johnson alleges that James Carter, an arbitrator and senior counsel at Wilmer Hale, failed to disclose that his law firm had previously represented the NFL and NFL teams before acting as an arbitrator in Johnson’s appeal. Johnson’s 2016 amended lawsuit asked the court to vacate Carter’s arbitration award on the grounds that it violates the Federal Arbitration Act.

Back in October 2018, the NFL suspended Johnson for violating the league’s Performance Enhancing Drug policy for a second time. Upon his return in December 2018, Johnson strongly hinted that he would take action against the NFL. In a statement, Johnson said, “I’m on a lot of people’s s— list, but I’ve got a few people on my s— list as well. That thing will get settled here in the next few months, so we’ll see what happens.”

According to Johnson’s attorney, Johnson’s lawsuit reflects that the arbitration was a “sham proceeding.” According to Johnson’s attorney, “[t]his case is harsh example of an employer and union who have chosen to withhold and manipulate the terms and conditions of employment in violation of the law. Such conduct is also in direct contravention of the 2015 Policy’s express requirements of ‘transparency’ and ‘fairness.'”

In his memo of law, Johnson argued that the documents provided by the NFLPA were missing several key pieces of information and modifications and that the NFLPA referenced during litigation. For example, Johnson sought an agreement where the NFLPA permitted the use of two arbitrators instead of the usual three-to-five. Further, Johnson sought relevant sections of the NFL drug policy on protocols/procedures used in player drug testing. According to Johnson, if the court grants the NFLPA’s motion summary judgment, it will set a precedent that a NFLPA can keep information from its members and force them into a legal fight to receive documents that they should be able to receive.

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