Monday, September 14, 2009
Eight Circuit Issues Important Sports Law Labor Ruling on Substance Abuse Suspensions of Two NFL Vikings Players
My Marquette Law colleague, Prof. Matt Mitten, Director of the National Sports Law Institute, comments on an important new case from the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the substance abuse suspension of two Minnesota Vikings football players last season.
A very important sports labor and employment law case, which I think is wrongly decided, was recently issued by the 8th Circuit.
In Williams v. NFL (8th Cir. Sept. 11, 2009), the appeals court affirmed three legal conclusions of the district court: 1. the Minnesota statutory claims alleged by Kevin Williams and Pat Williams of the Minnesota Vikings were not preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations
Act; 2. their Minnesota common law claims were preempted by section 301; and 3. the arbitrator's award upholding the player's suspensions for using banned substances would be upheld. The NFL Players Associations was at least initially successful in getting it claims heard that they had some statutory defenses to the suspensions under the Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act and the Minnesota Consumable Products Act.
In considering the players' right to continue with their Minnesota statutory claims free from Section 301 preemption, Matt argues that:
the court gives no consideration to a national professional sports league's need for uniform rules by permitting state law to invalidate the terms of a collectively bargained anti-doping program. It conflicts with other federal appellate cases holding that state labor, antitrust, administrative, and tort laws cannot be used to regulate national sports leagues and governing bodies, which require rules that must be applied and enforced consistently nationwide. It's almost certain the NFL will petition the Supreme Court for cert., and I think there's a reasonable chance the Court will grant its petition.
It will be of course interesting to see if the Supreme Court would take such a petition, but one thing is sure, this Supreme Court sure loves it some preemption cases (whether in the FDA, ERISA, or labor context).