Losses Piling Up for the NFL in Gruden Suit



First Reported by A.J. Perez of Front Office Sports, John Gruden v. The National Football League, et al. returned to court on Thursday. After District Court Judge Nancy Allf denied the National Football League’s (NFL) motion to compel arbitration last week, on Thursday, Judge Allf rejected the NFL’s attempt to seek a stay of the lawsuit pending an appeal Judge Allf’s decision. With the NFL running out of opportunities to force Gruden to arbitrate, this case inches closer to discovery, which could reveal much more about the league.


Background


In October 2021, Jon Gruden resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders after the New York Times revealed emails from Gruden, which included racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments regarding individuals throughout the league. The emails, which Gruden sent prior to Gruden’s January 2018 contract with the Raiders, surfaced after the NFL launched an investigation into the then-named Washington Football Team, which included outside counsel reviewing over 650,000 emails and interviewing more than 150 witnesses. Gruden later settled with the Raiders.


Allf’s Decision On Arbitration


“A court may order arbitration of a particular dispute only where the court is satisfied that the parties agreed to arbitrate that dispute[,]” wrote Judge Allf (citing Granite Rock Co. v. Int’l Bhd. Of Teamsters).


Pertinent to Judge Allf’s decision was the contract language. Specifically, Gruden’s employment contract states that the agreement is entered into “by and between the Oakland Raiders . . . and Jon Gruden.” Although Commissioner Goodell did sign the employment contract to indicate Commissioner approval, Commissioner Goodell was not a party to the contract, nor was the NFL a party to the contract.


Further, Judge Allf quickly disposed of the NFL’s argument that the bylaws and constitution require arbitration, noting “[w]hatever ability the NFL Parties may have had to compel arbitration under the [contract] expired as soon as Gruden and the Raiders terminated the Agreement.”


Lastly, Allf noted that Gruden’s emails and conduct occurred before his employment with the Las Vegas Raiders. Thus, Judge Allf denied the motion to compel arbitration.


Allf’s Decision On Staying The Lawsuit


In response to Judge Allf’s decision, the NFL immediately sought to appeal the decision. As a part of the appeal, the NFL sought a stay of the lawsuit pending an appeal.


Typically, for a judge to grant a stay pending an appeal, the party seeking a stay must demonstrate “a strong likelihood of success on the merits of its appeal.” Since Gruden’s conduct occurred before his return to the NFL, and the NFL was not a party to his employment contract with the Raiders, the NFL could not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, and Judge Allf denied the motion to stay.


The NFL can seek a stay with the Nevada Supreme Court and likely will exhaust all options to avoid litigation. With Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder under the microscope, the NFL is eager to avoid going to discovery and potentially revealing more information from the Washington Football Team investigations.


Landis Barber is an attorney at Safran Law Offices in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or via his blog offthecourtdocket.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Landisbarber.