Thursday, February 18, 2010

Vikings Players Putting NFL in Interesting Spot

You may remember that at the end of last season, Pat and Kevin Williams were suspended and fined by the NFL for violation of their substance policy. The Williamses have yet to miss an actual game, and continuing to fight against those suspensions.

And now, in fact, they are looking to sue the NFL for damages. A judge made an interesting ruling today, that if I'm reading correctly, could have some unintended consequences in tangentially related cases. The judge says that the Williamses, in order to sue the NFL, have to prove that they are at least in part employees of the NFL (as opposed to just employees of the Minnesota Vikings).

Here's, to me, the salient passage of Rochelle Olson's Star Tribune piece:

"If the players prove the NFL employs them at least partially, the league is subject to Minnesota's workplace drug and alcohol testing laws. The NFL argues that the Vikings, not the league, employ the players.

The distinction matters because the league administers the drug-testing.

Larson's order said the league clearly violated Minnesota laws by failing to tell the players within three days that they had tested positive for a banned substance. The players were tested on July 26, 2008, but weren't told of the results until two months later."

So it is clear to the judge the NFL violated Minnesota state law; the only question is whether that matters or not. If the NFL isn't the employer of players, then there is no expectation of them following the state laws guiding employee protections and guarantees. The NFL is very clearly saying, "Hey, we are not their employers."

But it seems to me that is at least kind of the opposite of what they are arguing in the American Needle case. There they are arguing that the NFL, and its 32 teams do in fact make up a single component, and should have that their Single-Entity trust exemption pushed even further. So far in fact, the NFLPA worries, that the very idea of Free Agency will become null and void.

It has always seemed pretty unlikely that the NFL could get the Big Ass Exemption that they are looking for. But this seems to hurt their case even more. The NFLPA folks are going to be able to go in and say, "Hey, even the NFL doesn't believe that they are employers of our players, in any way that would make them responsible for wrongdoing towards said players. They want to be a single entity for only the issues that benefit ownership, like hard salary caps and tamping down free agency, and they want to be 32 separate companies when it suits them, like following state laws."

I could be totally off base here, and I wouldn't be surprised if I was, but I have a hard time seeing how the NFL isn't talking out of both sides of its mouth between these two cases. Barnyard, our legal beagle, is somewhere around on the Internet. Perhaps he can weigh in? Maybe this is just a case of federal vs state courts. I really don't know. But to my untrained eye, it really looks like the NFL is about to argue in Minnesota state court that the position they too to the Supreme Court is total bullshit. Fun!


Andrew Wice said...

I agree with your reading of this case.

Saying one thing and doing another is hypocrisy.

This is different. This is a dented-up, bogus crock of shit.

Muumuuman said...

This is easy - if the NFL stands to profit, then they're a single entity. If they stand to lose (or loose as I am inclined to write) money they are not. Case closed!