SBJ/March 5-11, 2012/Labor and Agents

NFLPA drops workers’ comp jurisdiction appeal

The NFL Players Association last week dropped its appeals court case seeking to overturn a lower court decision requiring that three former Chicago Bears players file workers’ compensation claims in Illinois rather than California.

The filing in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave no reason, and the NFLPA did not reply for comment. The union had been due to file a response to the NFL’s argument that the case should be dismissed. Instead, it ended the appeal.

The new NFL collective-bargaining agreement left unresolved where players can file workers’ compensation claims, and there are at least two other federal cases on the issue. Many players want to file in worker-friendly California, and the NFLPA contends that the state’s workers’ compensation law disallows employers from preventing the employees who have done business there from filing in the Golden State.

Many teams write into player contracts stipulations that workers’ comp claims be filed in the home state of the team. Clubs have watched the cost of these claims rise in recent years, and the expense has been cited by team sources as a reason why non-salary costs rose quicker than revenue in 2011.

John Goldman, a labor and sports attorney with Herrick Feinstein, said given that the issue is being tried in multiple jurisdictions, the NFLPA’s move in the 7th Circuit suggests a deal between the league and union could be in the works.

“It appears there is probably a settlement of a broader range of issues,” he said.
The NFL declined to comment.

There have been no similar filings in two other federal cases, which are quite similar to the now-terminated Haynes v. Chicago Bears case.

A Louisiana federal court last week set May 16 for oral arguments in the lawsuit brought by the NFL against the union to enforce an arbitrator’s decision that several former New Orleans Saints players cannot file claims in California. A case also is pending before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals from former Tennessee Titans player Bruce Matthews. He is appealing a California district court decision that while he could file a claim in the Golden State, his award claim would have to be decided under Tennessee law.

Shortly after Matthews filed the appeal last September, the NFLPA dropped out as a co-plaintiff. Matthews’ counsel is Dewey & LeBoeuf, the NFLPA’s outside counsel.

Also last week, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the Kansas City Chiefs that 16 former players could not file claims in California.

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