SBJ/August 13-19, 2012/Labor and Agents

Union asking to reopen settlement with NFL

The NFL Players Association wants to reopen the legal settlement that ended last year’s lockout, a move that the league, which fought for removal of federal oversight of its labor relations, is expected to oppose.

The NFLPA made its motion before U.S. District Judge David Doty, who last week approved a briefing schedule on the matter, indicating he will consider the union’s argument.

A key condition for the NFL in last year’s new collective-bargaining agreement was ending Doty’s two decades of judicial oversight, so the prospect of a return to his Minnesota federal court could be cause for alarm at the league.

The NFL declined to comment. The NFLPA did not reply for comment.

The NFLPA’s motion is tied to its contention that the NFL engaged in collusion in 2010 by allegedly secretly setting a salary cap in an uncapped season. Such claims appear to be barred by both the CBA and by last year’s settlement agreement, signed by Doty, that ended the Brady antitrust lawsuit and the previously created White class, under which judicial oversight operated. But the NFLPA, earlier this month, filed what is known as a rule 60 motion, which essentially contends that the league was duplicitous in getting Doty and the union to sign off on the settlement, thereby providing grounds for the settlement to be invalidated for the purposes of the collusion claim.

“This motion is necessary as a basis for the Court to relieve the White Class from the [settlement] … due to the NFL’s and the Clubs’ affirmative concealment of the facts underlying the claims and related misconduct,” the NFLPA wrote in the motion.

The motion says if Doty were to find that the CBA and settlement do not bar the collusion claim, the union would drop the rule 60 effort. That ruling, however, would come in the context of language in the CBA and settlement that appears to disallow the claim.

The CBA, for example, says, the NFLPA “releases and covenants not to sue … the NFL or any NFL Club or any NFL affiliate with respect to any antitrust or other claim asserted in White v NFL or Brady v NFL, including … collusion with respect to any league year prior to 2011.”

Meanwhile, the settlement agreement says its own standing is “contingent upon the release and dismissal with prejudice by the NFLPA of any and all claims asserted … including … collusion in the 2010 league year.”

The NFLPA has said that this referenced collusion refers to an unrelated claim about the lack of restricted free agent signings in 2010 and not the alleged secret salary cap.

The White antitrust suit, named after the late Reggie White, was filed in 1993 and led to a new CBA. As part of that agreement, lawsuits brought by the union and league related to the CBA went to Doty. His rulings over the subsequent two decades often favored the players, leading the NFL to twice, unsuccessfully, try to have him removed.

“The NFL was the only league whose CBA was overseen by a federal court,” said Marc Ganis, a sports consultant with ties to the league, explaining how concerned the NFL would be at the prospect of Doty’s re-entry. “It was vital for them that they get out of that.”

Brady v. NFL was filed in March 2011 as part of the lockout. The sides settled as part of the resolution of the lockout, and the settlement ended Doty’s oversight.

But when news emerged in March of this year that the league had docked the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys cap space because of how the clubs structured contracts in 2010, it appeared to suggest a coordinated effort on behalf of the NFL to manage spending in a season when the CBA barred that. The NFL has denied collusion, but the NFLPA filed a claim of billions of dollars before Doty in May.

The action was brought to Doty because the alleged behavior, occurring in 2010, happened at a time when he did officially have oversight.
Doty has set a hearing date of Sept. 6, which is one day after the NFL regular season begins.

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