The possible penalty imposed on Brown quarterback Deshaun Watson will first depend on the decision of referee Sue L. Robinson and then, if she imposes any discipline at all and the league appeals, the commissioner or his nominee. Eventually, the courts were able to intervene.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reports that the NFL Players Association and Watson’s camp has already decided to sue the league in federal court, if the end result of the process is a suspension for the entire season.
Even if the union and Watson have the right to try, it will not be easy to win. First, judges love it when private parties accept their own dispute resolution procedures. The NFL and NFLPA negotiated the process of imposing discipline under the guidelines for personal conduct. Both sides agreed to revise the approach in 2020, with the disciplinary officer included in the calculation. As a general matter, the courts will not be inclined to burden themselves by anticipating the development of the steps taken by management and the workforce – and the Federal Arbitration Act provides them with cover to stay away from such battles.
What complicates the case is the story created by the cases that are a result of the suspensions of Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott. Brady, after defeating his #Deflatate suspension in a federal court in Manhattan, lost to a panel of three judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the other circuit. Elliott, who successfully bypassed the federal court system in New York and the precedent of the Brady case, used to begin with relief in a federal court in Texas from his suspension for personal conduct. However, it was determined that he had sued too quickly when he filed his case and challenged the league’s final decision before the NFL could file a lawsuit to try to defend it. The case went back to the one the NFL filed in New York, and that was it.
This is where the NFL has a built-in advantage. It can have the papers ready for submission in the Southern District of New York, and it can press the button literally seconds after the internal ruling is official. Basically, the league can easily win what is ultimately a rigged race to the courthouse.
The fact that the league and the association have negotiated a new CBA since the Elliot case will make it even more difficult to attack current procedures. If there were serious concerns about the rules and regulations for imposing discipline under the guidelines for personal conduct, the union could have addressed them when drafting the new terms. To win, the NFLPA must show that the league broke its own rules and regulations, in one way or another.
It will not be enough to say, “We do not like the final decision.” Both sides agreed that the disciplinary officer makes the first decision, that the commissioner or his appointee processes the complaint, and that the decision on appeal is final. The federal courts are not meant to be the next level of appeal. The case is supposed to be over. Based on the Brady and Elliott cases, it will therefore not be easy for Watson to have a federal court revoke a one-year suspension, if that is the final result of the agreed internal procedure.