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Volume 22 No. 34
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Court filings show arbitrator determined CAA Sports fired agent Ben Dogra ‘without cause’ in 2014

CAA Sports fired NFL agent and CAA Football co-head Ben Dogra “without cause” under the terms of his employment agreement, an arbitrator ruled, despite evidence the agency provided of offensive texts, emails and other communications he made to co-workers and others.

At the time he was fired Dogra was making a salary and guaranteed bonus of $4.5 million a year, as well as 60 percent of residual net income of the football division, which the evidence showed he oversaw, according to the first award in the private arbitration between the agent and CAA Sports. Dogra’s relationship with NFL agent Tom Condon, who he had worked with at the agency since 2006, was “severely damaged,” and Jimmy Sexton, an NFL player and coaches agent who joined the agency in 2011, was considering quitting had Dogra not been fired.

Those are some of the revelations that emerged in legal filings late last month.

Dogra was fired by Creative Artists Agency President Richard Lovett and General Counsel Michael Rubel at the agency’s Los Angeles headquarters on Nov. 13, 2014. At the time, it was widely reported that he was fired “for cause,” and that he was filing an arbitration, as required under his contract, disputing that claim, but the results were not known.

The reason it’s public now is because CAA Sports sued Dogra in federal court in St. Louis and Dogra countersued. CAA Sports is trying to vacate the fourth arbitration award in the ongoing dispute, which involves interest Dogra claims he is owed on amounts apparently already paid. Dogra countersued and attached the original arbitration award, as well as other documents, to a public court filing.

Ben Dogra, shown in 2008, has been paid millions since departing CAA.
Photo: jeremy deweese

CAA Sports fired Dogra for behavior he engaged in during late October 2014 through the day he was fired that included texts, emails and phone messages he sent out, according to the original award issued by arbitrator M. David Vaughn.

“Dogra’s communications include profanity, vulgarity, insults and personal attacks to and about other CAA employees and others,” Vaughn wrote. This led to a sit-down meeting with Dogra, Lovett and Rubel, where the CAA executives fired him “for cause.” Dogra argued that the action violated his employment agreement, which called for a 15-day written notice and a seven-day period to correct the behavior.

CAA “argues that it would have been futile for it to have given Dogra 15 days’ notice or to have granted Claimant seven days to cure his alleged breach of contract because Dogra’s behavior was so egregious that it could not have been cured,” Vaughn wrote.

But Vaughn disagreed. He noted that Lovett gave testimony that Dogra was “calm and studied” at the meeting, before which CAA was considering three possible alternatives, only one of which was him being fired. “Even the CAA executives agreed that Dogra was a good administrator for the football division and that the operation was very successful,” Vaughn also noted in explaining his decision.

Had the arbitrator ruled that Dogra was fired for cause, the agent would have had to pay $9 million to CAA Sports in $3 million installments over three years.

It is not clear exactly how much money Dogra has been paid. Since his dismissal, clients have paid both the agent and the agency, and there have been audits and at least four arbitrations over the matter. One thing that is clear is Vaughn ordered in his first arbitration award in 2016 that CAA pay Dogra $2,756,503 for coaching revenue, even though Dogra did not personally represent any coaches.

In the lawsuit, CAA Sports is asking the court to vacate the fourth arbitration award and Dogra is asking the court to enforce it and order CAA Sports to pay him $2,347,585, an amount representing interest on more than $12.5 million in playing contract revenue, marketing payments and coaching revenue during a time period of 2013 through 2015. It appears that $12.5 million, or portions of it, have been paid.

Although Dogra won on the “without cause” claim, the arbitrator threw out his other claims, including that CAA Sports had defamed him and that he was entitled to $13 million in “expectation” damages — or money he would have received had he not been fired. He also threw out Dogra’s attempt to claim money on a consulting fee for the naming-rights deal on Levi’s Stadium and his claim that he had not sold his business to CAA but licensed it to the agency.

Asked for comment last week, both sides claimed victory.

“We are pleased with the successful outcome of these arbitration proceedings, and our decision to sever ties with Ben Dogra, due to his abusive behavior,” a CAA spokesperson said in a statement. “In the wake of his termination, our Football division has never been stronger, and, in 2018 alone, had another record-setting NFL Draft, representing a landmark 11 first-round selections, and negotiated more than $1 billion in rookie and veteran playing contracts.”

Dogra’s attorney, John Comerford, issued this statement on his behalf: “As the Arbitrator’s Opinion and Award makes clear, Mr. Dogra was not fired from CAA for cause as was claimed at the time. The Arbitrator also found that Mr. Dogra was entitled to millions of dollars from CAA following his termination. The Award speaks for itself and we look forward to concluding this process.”

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.