Jon Gruden’s lawsuit against the NFL can continue in open court

Jon Gruden won two important battles in his civil lawsuit against the NFL on Wednesday when a judge in Clark County, Nevada, denied two of the league’s legal motions – one to dismiss his lawsuit outright and the other to compel arbitration behind closed doors.

Gruden filed the lawsuit in November 2021, a month after the New York Times report of emails in which he made homophobic and misogynistic remarks led him to resign as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Another email exchange, in which he used racist language while referring to DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL players union, who is black, had been reported by the Wall Street Journal.

In his lawsuit, Gruden claimed that the league and commissioner Roger Goodell intentionally leaked the emails and sought to destroy his career and reputation through “a malicious and orchestrated campaign”.

Judge Nancy Allf, of the Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County, heard oral arguments from both sides, while Gruden watched in the courtroom. She concluded that the defendants’ arguments had not reached the high bar in Nevada for the case to be dismissed outright. She also denied the NFL’s motion to refer the matter to arbitration, noting that she was “concerned that the commissioner has exclusive authority to adjudicate any disputes with employees.”

Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, said the league plans to appeal the court’s decision on arbitration and reiterated that the league denies disclosing the emails.

The NFL argued that the league’s constitution requires that any dispute between employees involving conduct that the commissioner deems harmful to the league be referred to arbitration, and that there is no doubt that Gruden’s emails respond to this definition. But in her ruling, Judge Alff said the harmful conduct the league was referring to did not occur during the time Gruden was under contract with the Raiders.

Although the emails were made public at the start of last season – the fourth year of Gruden’s second stint with the Raiders – they were sent over seven years, ending in 2018, when Gruden worked as an analyst. for ESPN. Gruden did not deny sending the derogatory emails to Bruce Allen, the former chairman of Washington’s team of commanders, and others. They were collected as part of the league’s Washington Commanders work culture survey. In his lawsuit, he alleged that Goodell and the NFL intentionally leaked the emails to distract critics from their handling of the investigation in Washington.

Judge Alff’s ruling means that, for now, Gruden’s claims will remain in open court as both sides enter a potentially eye-opening process of discovery that the NFL has sought to avoid in other labor disputes. The decision comes as the NFL prepares to file a motion to compel Brian Flores’ discrimination lawsuit against the league to arbitration, a move that Flores and his attorneys have publicly opposed.

While Gruden’s attorneys have argued that a decision to refer his case to arbitration would set a troubling precedent for other employee disputes, it’s unclear how or if that decision will impact how the case of Flores will be treated. A decision by a state district court would have no direct impact on a case in federal court, although judges may consult judgments from other courts to inform their decisions. Flores, the former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, claimed that the NFL and its member teams discriminate against black head coach candidates in their hiring processes.

“We argued that the arbitration clauses at issue are inadmissible since the commissioner, who has made his views very clear on this issue, cannot act as judge and jury and fairly oversee the litigation of this case,” Douglas Wigdor, one of Flores’ attorneys, said via email Wednesday.

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