The nation’s largest labor union federation is supporting New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in his latest court appeal of his punishment over last year's “Deflategate” controversy.
The AFL-CIO told the federal Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in a late Tuesday filing that its April ruling against Brady deferred too much to National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell for his decision to suspend Brady for four games.
The group said it has a “significant interest” in making sure that union contract arbitration clauses — like the one that governs Brady’s punishment — are properly applied. Most of the employees in the AFL-CIO’s unions have arbitration in their agreements.
“While the NFL and [NFL Players Association] bargained to allow the Commissioner to hear appeals of disciplinary decisions, they did not agree to let the Commissioner, sitting as an appellate arbitrator, to act in a manner that is arbitrary and capricious,” the AFL-CIO wrote in its brief. “Regardless of who hears appeals, labor arbitration always must be fundamentally fair.”
The union group told the court that Goodell acted more as an employer “seeking to justify his own disciplinary decision” than the neutral arbiter that Brady deserved under his union contract.
Kenneth Feinberg, a high-profile attorney who oversaw compensation funds for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, among others, also filed an amicus brief supporting Brady.
Feinberg wrote that the case has major implications for the role of arbitration in the United States.
“This case is of exceptional importance to arbitrators in light of the issues it raises about the power of arbitrators to disregard relevant portions of the parties’ arbitration agreement in issuing their judgments, and to rely on new grounds in affirming employer discipline,” he told the court.
Brady, the league’s two-time MVP, is asking the appeals court to either reconsider its April ruling reinstating his four-game suspension or to let the entire 13-judge court rehear the case originally heard by a three-judge panel.
His suspension stems from a January 2015 playoff game, in which NFL officials discovered that some footballs had been deflated, making them easier to grip. A league investigation concluded that Brady was “generally aware” of the tampering, an allegation he, the Patriots and the Players’ Association have repeatedly denied.
Goodell oversaw the appeal of Brady’s punishment and reaffirmed it. Brady and the union challenged it in federal court and had the decision overturned, but the league appealed.
Brady and the Players Association last month hired Ted Olsen, a lawyer who has argued at the Supreme Court dozens of times, to represent him, fueling speculation that he will appeal to the high court.