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Lessons from Deflategate


Posted in on January 21, 2016

Last year’s debacle surrounding “under-inflated” footballs was a hot topic of discussion. Deflategate was not just about some stitched together pigskin. Rather, the tangled mess of legal proceedings and negotiations produced valuable lessons that every employer should seek to incorporate in their employment contracts and labor procedures.

Lessons from Deflategate2

Historically, courts generally do not overturn a decision made under a process governed by the Federal Arbitration Act. However, a District Court in New York decided to vacate Tom Brady’s four-game suspension mainly because it was based on “several significant legal deficiencies;” Legal deficiencies that NFL could have easily avoided had they received proper advisement as to their employment contracts and employee handbooks.

First, Judge Berman held Brady did not have notice of his prohibited conduct, or the potential punishment to follow. Notice is the single most important tool in management of employees. In an employment context, simple notice extends as far as informing an employee of his or her role in a company, how he or she is expected to conduct him or herself in the workplace or when representing a company, and how certain conduct will not be acceptable. Furthermore, in a discipline context (what Brady did not receive) notice provides employees guidelines for how their conduct may result in warnings, discipline, or resolutions to disputes through various alternative dispute resolutions.

Additionally, the Court found the NFL did not consistently treat this player matter proportionally when compared with other discipline or even to other players; and, that the discipline the League decided on was arbitrary and based on incomparable offenses. These findings, combined with the NFL’s attempt to substitute new evidence for punishment purposes only that was not provided to Brady when they initially cited his conduct, allowed the Court to wholly reject the NFL’s decision to suspend Brady.

Overall, the Deflategate decision presents a cautionary tale for all employers, both for their employment contracts as well as workplace discipline and procedure. However, the NFL could have avoided this black eye simply by following the above tenets.

Baker, Braverman, and Barbadoro, P.C., can successfully help your company, or you as an employee, with drafting and understanding watertight, effective employment contracts that are advantageous to all parties – contracts that the NFL could have taken tips from when establishing their CBA between the League and its players. Our firm employs some of the top employment law attorneys in Massachusetts who will provide legal expertise that will help you to avoid various pitfalls. Reach out to us today with any of your legal questions, and continue to browse our website to view all our areas of expertise. – S. Grant Bowen.