Johnson alleges arbitrator had conflict and didn’t disclose it
Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson has filed an amended lawsuit against the NFL and the NFL Players Association, alleging that the arbitrator assigned to hear his case worked for a law firm that did significant legal work for the league.
Johnson alleges that James Carter, a senior counsel at Wilmer Hale, failed to disclose to Johnson that Wilmer Hale represented the NFL and NFL clubs, before Carter acted as an arbitrator regarding Johnson’s suspension. The amended lawsuit asks the court to vacate Carter’s arbitration award upholding the NFL’s 10-game suspension of Johnson last season, on the grounds that it violates the Federal Arbitration Act.
The award “was the product of a fatally flawed and biased discipline appeal process, which by any reasonable measure, was a ‘sham,’” the lawsuit alleges.
The NFL and NFL Players Association both declined to comment on the new lawsuit.
“I am unable to comment,” Carter wrote in an email to SportsBusiness Journal.
Johnson first sued the NFL and NFLPA in January, alleging that both had violated labor laws.
In the new complaint before U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi, Johnson’s attorney, Stephen Zashin, alleges that the arbitration award violated the Federal Arbitration Act for several reasons, including that “Carter demonstrated partiality by not making a conflict disclosure.”
Carter’s law firm “represented clients engaged in “transactions … with the NFL, the NFL Players Association, NFL teams or owners or NFL players or other personnel,” the lawsuit states. Zashin also represents New York Jets nose tackle Mike Pennel, who sued the NFL and NFLPA last year as a member of the Green Bay Packers, and the suit states Johnson learned about the conflicts through that suit.
The Supreme Court has vacated an arbitration award because the arbitrator did not disclose close financial relations that existed between the arbitrator and one party, the lawsuit notes. And Carter wrote an instructional book, “International Commercial Arbitration in New York,” in which he wrote arbitrators who are members of a law firm have a duty to check for and disclose any conflict.
“Carter, ignoring Supreme Court precedent and his own book, failed to make any disclosure to Johnson, including any disclosure of his pecuniary interests,” the lawsuit alleges.
In addition to the allegation of an undisclosed conflict, Johnson argues the arbitration should be vacated for other reasons, including “Carter refused to take an adverse inference against the NFL,” “Carter relied on information the NFL refused to provide to Johnson,” and “Carter demonstrated bias throughout the proceedings,” according to the lawsuit.
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Liz Mullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.