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National Football League Players Association v. National Football League

2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23843 (2015)

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National Football League Players Association v. National Football League

United States District Court for the District of Minnesota

2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23843 (2015)

Facts

The players in the National Football League (NFL) (defendant) had a collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) with the NFL. Under the CBA, the commissioner could discipline players for detrimental conduct as defined in the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. Players were entitled to a noticed hearing and an appeal for any imposed discipline. In May 2014, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson inflicted corporal punishment on his son. The policy in effect at the time (the old policy) provided for a range of possible disciplinary measures depending on various factors, with first-time domestic-violence offenders normally facing a maximum suspension of two games. In late August 2014, following a well-publicized domestic-violence incident involving Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, the commissioner changed the personal-conduct policy. Under the new policy, a first-time domestic-violence offense carried a consequence of a six-game suspension without pay and the potential for a longer suspension. Subsequently, Peterson was convicted of misdemeanor reckless assault. The NFL notified Peterson of a disciplinary hearing. The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) (plaintiff) responded to the NFL on Peterson’s behalf with questions about the hearing process. The NFL did not reply and proceeded to conduct the hearing without Peterson. Explicitly applying the new policy, the commissioner suspended Peterson for “at least” the remainder of the season without pay and ordered counseling. Peterson had already missed eight games by being placed on an exemption list. The NFLPA appealed the commissioner’s decision, submitting for arbitration the issues of whether the commissioner impermissibly applied the new policy to Peterson, the fairness of the disciplinary process, whether imposition of counseling was allowed, and whether Peterson had already been disciplined by missing eight games. The arbitrator upheld the commissioner’s discipline in its entirety, despite the commissioner’s concession that the new policy could not be retroactively applied to Peterson’s conduct. In district court, the NFLPA filed a petition to vacate the arbitration award.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Doty, J.)

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