Sports and Entertainment Law

NFL and Union Hire High-Profile Lawyers, File Legal Actions with NLRB, Minnesota Court

The games move to the legal stage now that the National Football League has announced a lockout after labor negotiations failed to produce a new collective bargaining agreement.

The NFL has hired two high-profile lawyers to join NFL outside litigation counsel Gregg Levy of Covington & Burling, according to the New York Times and the Am Law Daily. They are David Boies of Boies, Schiller & Flexner and former solicitor general Paul Clement of King & Spalding. Representing the players in an antitrust suit against the NFL are James Quinn, litigation co-chair of Weil, Gotshal & Manges; and Jeffrey Kessler, global litigation chair of Dewey & LeBoeuf.

The Players Association decertified its union on Friday, putting the group in position to file the antitrust action that claims “a patently unlawful group boycott and price-fixing arrangement.” In the alternative, the suit asserts the NFL has unilaterally imposed anti-competitive restrictions on player movement and free agency through the lockout. The antritrust suit can be filed, the complaint says, because the NFL’s antitrust exemption applies only when there is a collective bargaining relationship between the NFL and the players.

The New York Times outlines other legal maneuvers in a separate story, including:

• The players are seeking an injunction to stop the lockout. According to the Times, “nearly everyone expects the players to get the injunction.”

• The NFL has asked the National Labor Relations Board to declare that the union dissolution was a sham. If the NLRB agrees, the Washington Post reports, “the players could be forced to return to the table with their suit jeopardized and legal strategy in shambles.”

• The owners are expected to appeal a prior ruling that the NFL failed to maximize revenue from networks when it renegotiated television deals, meaning the league could lose $4 billion in TV revenue during the lockout. U.S. District Judge John Doty issued the ruling; he may also be overseeing the antitrust suit, the New York Times reports in a different story.

The Times describes Doty as “the league’s bête noire” because of his rulings favoring players, while the Washington Post says he may be “the most influential man in professional football.” In previous court filings, the NFL has alleged bias by Doty, who has overseen the NFL collective bargaining agreement since 1993.

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