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Legal battle between NFL, union gets turned up a notch

At any given time, the NFL and the players’ union find themselves involved in a variety of legal proceedings -- grievances, arbitrations, appeal hearings, etc. It’s standard, garden-variety stuff from which hard feelings rarely emerge, or linger.

Lately, the disputes have become more numerous, and more pointed. From StarCaps to the attack on the league’s ability to collect television money during a lockout, the NFLPA recently has been giving the league the business on a regular basis.

And now the NFL has been drawn into a fight that neither the league nor the union started.

According to Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal, the NFLPA has served subpoenas upon the league, Commissioner Roger Goodell, and former NFLPA President Troy Vincent as part of the pre-trial discovery process in the lawsuit filed last year against the union by Mary Moran, a former NFLPA employee. Moran claims that the union retaliated against her because of her role as a confidential witness in a Department of Labor investigation regarding the matter. The subpoenas request the production of documents relating to allegedly
secret communications between Vincent and the league.

It’s standard practice in civil litigation for the parties to harvest any and all potentially relevant documents. In this case, however, it would make more sense for Moran’s lawyer to be serving these subpoenas. The decision of the union to do so highlights the NFLPA’s unusual posture in the Moran case. On one hand, the union needs to defend itself against the claim that it retaliated against Moran. On the other hand, the union’s overall interests would be served if it’s proven that the league and Vincent were colluding.

We predict that Vincent will respond by saying he has no responsive documents (even if he does), and that the NFL will object to the subpoena, arguing that the question of whether the league and Vincent had communications has no relevance to Mary Moran’s claims against the union, and that the request is not “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” in that case. The NFL also will point out that the union is using the Moran lawsuit to fish for materials that could give the NFLPA leverage in the broader CBA battle between the two parties.

Either way, we’ll forget all about this one if/when the union files suit against the NFL for collusion during the uncapped year.