NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Three more New Orleans Saints and the players union claim in court that the NFL unfairly suspended them on unsubstantiated charges that they participated in a “bounty” program aimed at injuring opponents for cash rewards.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a defensive captain, sued the NFL last week.
In the new complaint, similar to Vilma’s but with much greater detail, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith say the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell’s investigation and arbitration process was a “sham” and that “the NFL violated express CBA [collective bargaining agreement] requirements and refused to provide the players with access to critical documents or witnesses.”
Goodell “launched a public campaign defending the punishments he intended to arbitrate, rendering him incurably and ‘evidently biased’,” the three players say in the federal complaint, whose lead plaintiff is the National Football League Players Association.
The NFL said publicly in March that its investigation found that Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and at least 22 Saints players pooled money to pay bonuses for hard hits and for deliberately injuring opponents from the 2009 to 2011 seasons. Coach Sean Payton knew about the bounty program but did nothing, according to the NFL.
Fujita was accused of pledging a significant amount of money to the bounty pool during the 2009 NFL Playoffs and suspended without pay for three games. Hargrove was accused of participating in the program and obstructing the league’s investigation. He was suspended without pay for eight games. Smith was accused of helping Williams establish and fund the bounty program and he was suspended without pay for four games.
Williams was suspended indefinitely and Payton was suspended for one year.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was suspended for a year, sued the NFL on June 30 in the same court and made similar allegations regarding the arbitration process.
Both lawsuits, the new one and Vilma’s, accuse Goodell of violating the collective bargaining agreement by basing his arbitration award on documents and witness statements never disclosed to the NFL Players Association.
Fujita, Hargrove and Smith also claim that Goodell had no jurisdiction under the collective bargaining agreement and that he showed bias in statements to the press before arbitrating the matter. They seek an order vacating Goodell’s arbitration award.
They are represented by Joseph Mole, of New Orleans.