SBD/Issue 240/Leagues & Governing Bodies

NFLPA Confirms U.S. Department Of Labor Looking Into Meetings

Vincent Allegedly Met
With Goodell Secretly
The NFLPA today confirmed that the U.S. Department of Labor's division of labor fraud and racketeering has been investigating the union, and the organization said it was cooperating in the probe into whether meetings between the NFLPA's player leaders and NFL officials violated labor law. Mary Moran, who has been the NFLPA's head of human resources, is suing the union alleging that she was discriminated against in part because she was acting as a confidential informant in the DOL investigation. Her lawsuit alleges that current NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith attempted to have the investigation quashed by the U.S. Department of Justice. “We are confident that the claims are without merit and therefore see no reason to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit," the NFLPA said in a statement to SportsBusiness Journal this morning.

DETAILS OF THE LAWSUIT: Moran, a close confidante of late NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw, filed the lawsuit in Superior Court in DC last week. The civil suit alleges that former NFLPA President Troy Vincent "had been meeting with and corresponding with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell secretly, without Mr. Upshaw's consent or knowledge, or the consent or knowledge of any other top NFLPA officials." Last year, Goodell and Texans Owner Bob McNair met with Vincent, a finalist for the NFLPA Exec Dir job, to influence the direction of the football union, the most powerful in sports, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that player representatives, and at least one current NFLPA Exec Committee member, met with owners "to give the owners access to critical information before negotiations" of a new CBA. The NFL said it has not seen the lawsuit but that Goodell and other owners last year did meet with Vincent, though not on labor issues. The NFL said the matters the league did meet with Vincent on, as well as with other union representatives, included the Pro Bowl, personal conduct, retired players, competition issues, and player safety. The NFL also said Upshaw was present during these meetings. Moran alleges in the lawsuit that the meetings between Vincent and Goodell were secret. The NFL said in a statement issued this morning: "Commissioner Goodell has always had an open-door policy with players -- current and retired. He told the Jets players last week and the Redskins players as recently as this morning to contact him whenever they want. We have not seen the lawsuit, but not surprisingly Commissioner Goodell and other NFL executives had regular contact over many years with Gene Upshaw and other union executives, including Troy Vincent, on a wide range of matters. These meetings included both active and retired players."

CLAIMS OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST SMITH, UNION: Moran says in the lawsuit she was discriminated against by Smith and the union for being a witness in the DOL’s investigation into Vincent and alleged collusion between the league and Vincent. Neither the DOL nor Vincent could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesperson for McNair said he would speak to him but did not call back. “On April 3, 2009, Mr. Smith held a private meeting with a top official in the U.S. Department of Justice, who is upon information and belief, is a long time personal friend of Mr. Smith,” the lawsuit alleged. “Upon information and belief, Mr. Smith met secretly with this official in order to ask him to stop the DOL investigation of the NFLPA and Mr. Vincent.”

SEEKING MORE THAN $4M: Moran is seeking more than $4M in damages for being stripped of her job responsibilities and enduring what she describes as harassment. She said that Vincent repeatedly called her "Jezebel," which the lawsuit claims is a derogatory term term for Jewish women, and that the NFLPA tolerated the conduct. The lawsuit says Moran is Jewish, and that she received death threats after her role in exposing Vincent. The lawsuit also alleges that Vincent was behind a letter sent by four African-American Congressmen to the DOL in early January seeking an investigation into the NFLPA search for a new Exec Dir. One of those congressmen, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), held a conference call in February with four reporters to refute he met with Vincent prior to sending the letter. The lawsuit also alleges that Vincent did try to engineer a coup in March '08 to unseat Upshaw. Upshaw was investigating Vincent when Upshaw suddenly passed in August '08. After Upshaw's death, Vincent was seen as the front runner for the position until losing to Smith in March '09 at a vote of the union’s player representatives. The lawsuit alleges unethical and possible illegal conduct on the part of Vincent was exposed at that meeting, leading to Smith’s victory.

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