An appeals court recently reinstated the four game suspension issued to Tom Brady by the National Football League. The Patriots quarterback previously had his four game suspension reversed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, but in a 2 to 1 decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision. We previously offered you some lessons that could be taken from the “Deflategate” saga. We also noted that we did not believe that the District Court used the appropriate standard of review in evaluating Brady’s appeal of his suspension (yes, this is us patting ourselves on the back).
The decision is a double edged sword for employers with a unionized workforce, because it contains both good and bad news. The good news is, the court recognized that the NFL had bargained for the right to issue disciplinary action to players for rules violations and to have Commissioner Rodger Goodell serve as the arbitrator to decide internal appeals of those disciplinary actions. The court recognized that the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the Players’ Association was clear on these points. The court noted that, while this scheme was unorthodox, it was what the parties bargained for in the agreement.
The bad news: the court also recognized that the decisions of arbitrators are afforded broad deference and are very hard to overturn. And all too often it is the employer on the losing side of an arbitration decision that faces an uphill battle on appeal. In affirming Goodell’s decision on Brady’s internal appeal, the court reaffirmed the high level of deference owed to arbitrator’s awards. The battle may have been won by the NFL here, but it often seems that employers generally are losing the war.
Only time will tell if Brady and the Players’ Association pursue a further appeal. In the meantime, we can continue to take lessons from this much publicized labor dispute with a football twist.