NFL-appointed Arbitrator Harold Henderson’s decision to uphold Commissioner Roger Goodell’s suspension of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson for alleged child abuse was proper, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has ruled. NFL Players Association v. National Football League et al., No. 15-1438 (8th Cir. Aug. 4, 2016).
The decision marks a further affirmation of Commissioner Goodell’s authority and almost unlimited power to discipline players pursuant to the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement between the League and its players association.
As Boston College Law Professor Warren K. Zola commented, “The power of the NFL commissioner strengthens as 8th Circuit determines ‘fundamental fairness’ is subordinate to collective bargaining.”
The Eighth Circuit’s decision overturned U.S. District Judge David Doty’s February 2015 decision vacating Arbitrator Henderson’s decision to uphold Goodell’s suspension of Peterson for the remainder of the 2014 season after Peterson pled no contest to a charge of misdemeanor reckless assault child abuse charges in November of that year.
The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) had filed a grievance against the NFL on Peterson’s behalf following the suspension, asserting that Peterson should have been disciplined under the League’s prior conduct policy, which authorized only a maximum two-game suspension. Goodell’s appointed arbitrator rejected that argument and upheld the suspension.
The NFLPA had argued before the Eighth Circuit that Judge Doty had properly ruled that the League misapplied a domestic abuse policy enacted after Peterson’s alleged wrongful conduct in violation of the League’s collective bargaining agreement. A three-judge Eighth Circuit panel disagreed, reversing Judge Doty’s decision and concluding the district court had improperly vacated Arbitrator Henderson’s decision upholding the suspension.
The Eighth Circuit stated,
“We conclude that the parties bargained to be bound by the decision of the arbitrator, and the arbitrator acted within his authority, so we reverse the district court’s judgement vacating the arbitration decision.”