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Law

NFL’s Appeals Hearing in Jon Gruden Case Could be Must-See TV

  • Cameras will be present as a three-judge panel presides over the Jan. 10 hearing in Las Vegas.
  • The NFL will argue the case should be compelled to arbitration.
Gruden Hearing
A.J. Perez/FOS

Cameras will be present for what could be the most consequential NFL-related courtroom hearing in years. 

The NFL’s appeal of a district court decision held up Jon Gruden’s lawsuit against the league for a year. That pause ends on Jan. 10 when the Nevada Supreme Court hears oral arguments.

Nevada Supreme Court Justices Elissa F. Cadish, Kristina Pickering and Linda M. Bell will preside over the hearing where the NFL’s lawyers argue that District Court Judge Nancy Allf erred in her decision last year not to shift the case into arbitration. 

Oral arguments were originally scheduled for Nov. 7 before a new date was set.

“Because the Supreme Court has already issued a stay of the underlying litigation,” said Dan Wallach, a sports legal analyst and co-host of the Conduct Detrimental podcast. “To get that stay, the National Football League had to make a demonstration that it had a decent likelihood of success on the merits of the appeal.

“If the league didn’t have a good chance here, the Supreme Court would have denied its motion for a stay. It’s not a slam dunk either way.”

Lawyers for Gruden and the NFL will each get 30 minutes to argue their sides before the three-judge panel, according to the scheduling order released this week.

“The justices will likely start asking questions right away,” said Alex Velto, an associate with the Nevada-based firm Hutchison & Steffen. “They will know the case well after reading all the briefs, so they will likely get to the point pretty quickly.”

After the hearing, it is expected that it will take several weeks for the three justices to release their opinion, which will determine the course of the case along one of two paths:

  • The resumption of Gruden’s case in district court if a majority sides with the former coach and ESPN analyst. 
  • An NFL victory would shift the case into arbitration, where the NFL Commissioner Goodell has the authority to hear the case himself or select an independent arbitrator. 

Gruden sued the NFL and Goodell two years ago after leaked racist, misogynistic, and homophobic emails led to his resignation as head coach of the Raiders. In the complaint, Gruden alleged the NFL was the source of those two batches of leaked emails.

“Neither the NFL nor the Commissioner leaked Coach Gruden’s offensive emails,” the NFL said in a statement last year. 

Gruden is seeking the balance of this 10-year, $100 million contract with the Raiders, who settled with Gruden for an undisclosed amount. The Raiders are not a defendant in the case. 

The tortious interference and negligence lawsuit has been on hold since the NFL filed its notice of appeal last October. 

On Thursday, Cadish approved the requests from three Las Vegas TV stations to cover the hearing, which will take place in Las Vegas across the street from the district court where Gruden’s prior court hearings were held.

The NFL also moved for the case’s dismissal twice last year, bids that Allf denied. 

If Gruden wins the appeal, the case will proceed to trial, and there aren’t any indications that he will settle.

The NFL is also appealing a federal court judge’s decision not to compel arbitration in the racial discrimination lawsuit brought by former Miami Dolphins head coach and current Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach Brian Flores.

“This one hasn’t even advanced past ‘go,'” Wallach said. “It really highlights the effectiveness of the NFL’s arbitration language. Justice delayed is justice denied. And in the Gruden case, it’s two years without a single shred of discovery. The Flores case is like now a year and a half plus old and is going the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals over the same issue of arbitrability. The arbitration language has been an effective tool to stave off discovery.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Oct. 25 with the rescheduled deposition date.

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