NFL players union argues no breach of collective bargaining agreement on player’s 10-game drug suspension

By Joseph M. Hanna

7 February 2017

Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles right tackle, was hit with a 10-game drug suspension last season for the alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. In response, Johnson filed suit last month against the NFL Players Association, arguing that the Union’s inactions caused his suspension. Specifically, Johnson sued the NFL and the Players Union for allegedly failing to follow the collective bargaining agreement and the collectively bargained NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances in punishing him with a 10-game suspension.

After raising jurisdictional issues and determining that an Ohio federal court was an improper jurisdiction for the case, the NFLPA sought the dismissal of Johnson’s suit. In a dismissal bid, the Union stated that Johnson’s suspension was upheld during arbitration, as he admitted using banned performance-enhancing substances in violation of the league’s Performance Enhancing Substances Policy. Notably, the NFLPA said that “Johnson cannot plausibly plead that he would have won his disciplinary appeal ‘but for’ any or all of the NFLPA’s purported conduct; therefore, he lacks Article III standing, and this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.” Moreover, the Union stated that “Johnson has failed to state any claim. His duty of fair representation claim fails because he has not come close to pleading plausible facts of arbitrary, discriminatory, or bad faith conduct by the NFLPA.

While Johnson served his 10-game suspension and returned to the field in December 2016, he argues that the NFLPA failed in its duty to adequately represent him, retaliated against him for his public criticism of the Union and its representation of its players, denied him information, thus, breaching the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, and that it colluded with the NFL. In response to Johnson’s suit, the NFLPA stated that Johnson raised only “bare assertions” that cannot support any claims of bad faith, collusion or retaliation. The Union brings its motion after already seeking to have the case dismissed for lack of jurisdiction or transferred to New York. Johnson is adamant on opposing the Union’s motion to dismiss, stating that “[s]adly, the NFLPA continues to try to deprive its members of meaningful information about collectively bargained agreements with the NFL.

If the Union’s motion to dismiss is granted, the information available to NFL players under the Management Reporting and Disclosure Act may be greatly limited, which may impact NFL players’ abilities to acquire all the necessary information regarding their collective bargaining agreements with their employer (the NFL).



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About the Author

Joseph M. Hanna

Joseph M. Hanna

Joseph Hanna is a partner of Goldberg Segalla and concentrates his practice in commercial litigation with a focus on sports and entertainment law and retail, hospitality, and development litigation. Joe represents sports franchises, professional athletes, and movie studios with various issues related to licensing, contracts, and day-to-day management. He serves as Chair of Goldberg Segalla’s Sports and Entertainment Law Practice Group and editor of the firm’s Sports and Entertainment Law Insider blog. In addition, Joe is the Chair of Goldberg Segalla's Diversity Task Force. He possesses an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell.
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