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Sunday, May 19, 2024
Law

NFL Wins Appeal in Jon Gruden Civil Suit, Case Headed to League Arbitration

  • The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that Gruden’s claims are subject to the league’s arbitration system. 
  • The majority decision comes more than two years after Gruden originally sued the league and commissioner Roger Goodell. 
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL prevailed in its latest appeal in former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s long-running lawsuit against the league. The case will head to the league’s own arbitration system, according to a ruling from the Nevada State Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Justices Elissa F. Cadish and Kristina Pickering wrote for the 2–1 majority that Gruden was subject to the NFL’s broad arbitration provision in the NFL’s constitution, overturning a lower-court ruling that Gruden was within his rights to pursue the case in court.  

“Public policy favors enforcement of a valid arbitration clause and we cannot say with positive assurance that the NFL Constitution arbitration clause is not susceptible to the NFL Parties’ interpretation,” the justices wrote in the 19-page ruling. “We therefore conclude that Gruden must submit to arbitration under the NFL Constitution arbitration clause.”

The decision by the Nevada Supreme Court was the first significant ruling in Gruden’s litigation since District Court Judge Nancy Allf denied the NFL’s motion to compel arbitration for a second time in October 2022. Oral arguments were held in front of a three-judge panel of the Nevada Supreme Court in January. 

“When Gruden entered into his contract with the Raiders—the richest coaching contract in NFL history—he agreed to two broad arbitration provisions that cover all disputes arising out of his employment agreement or involving conduct detrimental to the league,” Kannon Shanmugam, a lawyer working on behalf of the NFL, said during oral arguments. 

Gruden’s lawyer, Adam Hosmer-Henner, countered that Gruden’s contract with the Raiders  lacked “valid and enforceable” language that would force the issue into arbitration, a process that is shrouded in secrecy and overseen by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. 

Gruden sued the NFL and Goodell in November 2021, two weeks after he resigned under pressure after The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times published several anti-gay, racist, and misogynist emails. Gruden was an ESPN analyst when he exchanged those emails with then-Washington exec Bruce Allen about a decade before. In the pleading, Gruden claimed the league “intentionally” leaked those emails “to create a distraction” from the NFL’s handling of an investigation into Washington’s toxic workplace. 

The league denied it was the source and so did then Commanders owner Dan Snyder. The first NFL investigation led to a then-record $10 million fine in July 2021. In the months after that penalty was announced, the furor over Snyder and the team’s working conditions—especially for women employees—mostly died down. 

The publication of the emails not only cost Gruden his job but also reignited the scrutiny of Snyder and the Commanders. The House Oversight Committee announced an investigation into the team even before Gruden’s lawsuit was filed—a probe that, eventually, played a major role in Snyder putting the team on the market in November 2022.

The lawsuit sought to recoup the balance of Gruden’s 10-year, $100 million contract with Las Vegas. The Raiders settled with Gruden for an undisclosed amount days after his resignation; he was in the fourth year of that deal. 

Gruden alleges in the lawsuit that the league leaked those emails that were gathered as part of the investigation into the Commanders conducted by attorney Beth Wilkinson. The league denies it was the source for the emails published in the Journal and the Times. 

In a statement Tuesday, Gruden’s lawyer, Adam Hosmer-Henner, said that “the panel’s split decision would leave Nevada an outlier where an employer can unilaterally determine whether an employee’s dispute must go to arbitration and also allow the employer to adjudicate the dispute as the arbitrator,” and that Gruden would ask the Nevada Supreme Court for an “en banc reconsideration.”

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