SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A former football team executive has sued the Alliance of American Football in a federal class action following the surprise termination of dozens of football players and other employees last week.
Lead plaintiff James Ernest Roberson Jr. claims controlling owner Thomas Dundon violated federal law when he suspended the league’s operations and laid off over 100 employees on April 2 without 60 days advance written notice.
Dundon bought his stake in Alliance shortly after it began play on Feb. 9, according to the suit. Attorneys for Roberson, who was an executive with Alliance football team the Birmingham Iron, said by phone Tuesday that Alliance has not yet announced the reason for the decision, but surmised it was related to “whether or not investors are willing to put enough money into the league to keep it afloat.”
“Our guys just woke up last Tuesday and found out they didn’t have jobs,” said class counsel Byron Perkins, of Perkins Law in Birmingham, Alabama.
“It was like a gut punch,” added Winston Cooks attorney Roderick Cooks, who also represents the class.
Founded by Bill Polian, a former Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts general manager, and by television producer Charlie Ebersol, the Alliance of American Football consisted of eight centrally owned and operated teams, all in the southern and western United States, according to the complaint. All teams except Birmingham were located in metropolitan areas that have at least one major professional sports franchise.
Polian is also named as a defendant.
Alliance players signed three-year, $250,000 deals to play for the league, according to an April 4 report by USA Today. Although some Alliance players will undoubtedly be recruited to a prestigious National Football League team, most will be forced to find careers outside professional football, the newspaper reports.
Cooks and Perkins both said Tuesday they “absolutely” agree with that assessment.
The league could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In a statement posted on its website and Twitter feed April 5, the league said it is “unable to comment further or share details about the decision” to suspend operations citing “ongoing legal processes.”
“This week, we made the difficult decision to suspend all football operations for the Alliance of American Football,” the league’s statement said. “We understand the difficulty that this decision has caused for many people and for that we are very sorry. This is not the way we wanted it to end, but we are also committed to working on solutions for all outstanding issues to the best of our ability.”
The statement continued: “We are grateful to our players, who delivered quality football and may now exercise their NFL-out clauses in our contract. We encourage them to continue pursuing their dreams and wish them the best. We are grateful to our fans, who have been true believers from the beginning, and to our world-class partners. And to the Alliance coaches and employees who devoted their valuable time and considerable talent to this venture, we are forever grateful.”
Roberson seeks to recover wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, medical expenses and accrued holiday and vacation pay for the 60 working days following class members’ respective terminations, as well as pension and 401(k) contributions, which he claims Alliance never paid.
“Those people relied on the league for their livelihood and for taking care of their families,” Perkins said. “They don’t know where to go from here.”