Entertainment & Sports Law

2nd Circuit upholds NFL decision, says Tom Brady must serve 4-game 'Deflategate' suspension

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Noting that substantial deference is granted to labor arbitration awards, a divided federal appeals court panel on Monday reinstated a four-game suspension imposed on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady by the National Football League concerning the so-called Deflategate scandal.

Reversing a federal district court, the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals majority said a collective bargaining agreement gave the NFL broad authority to discipline players. It also found that Commissioner Roger Goodell, overseeing an arbitration requested by Brady, had made procedural rulings that “did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness.”

Hence, based on the league’s finding that Brady participated in a deflation scheme concerning footballs used in last year’s American Football Conference championship game, Goodell had the power to impose the suspension, the court wrote in its 2-1 majority opinion (PDF).

“Our role is not to determine for ourselves whether Brady participated in a scheme to deflate footballs or whether the suspension imposed by the Commissioner should have been for three games or five games or none at all,” the majority said. “Nor is it our role to second‐guess the arbitrator’s procedural rulings. Our obligation is limited to determining whether the arbitration proceedings and award met the minimum legal standards established by the Labor Management Relations Act.”

A dissenting opinion by Chief Judge Robert Katzmann says Goodell went beyond his broad authority because he disciplined Brady for conduct different than what was described in a report by Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison. Doing this was beyond the scope of Goodell’s arbitration powers, and hence the decision should be vacated, Katzmann writes.

The Associated Press, ESPN and the Washington Post (reg. req.) have stories.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “NFL fines Patriots $1M, eliminates 2 draft picks, suspends QB Tom Brady 4 games for ‘Deflategate’”

ABAJournal.com: “Judge overturns Tom Brady’s suspension in ‘deflategate’ scandal”

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