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NFL Players Challenge Workers’ Comp Ruling

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Dozens of former NFL players claim in court that an arbitration award barring them from seeking workers' compensation in California "offends" state public policy and ignores Supreme Court precedent.

In two federal complaints this week, 49 players sued the National Football League Management Council and the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.

The players all claim they were injured or aggravated injuries while playing or practicing pro football in California.

An arbitration award entered Dec. 12 ordered the players to cease and desist from pursuing workers' compensation claims in the Golden State.

The players say that ruling stems from an arbitration provision of an expired collective bargaining agreement and must be vacated.

The ruling "offends California public policy," which "makes clear that contract waiving workers' compensation benefits are illegal and contrary to public policy," both 18-page complaints state.

It also "manifestly disregards" the 9th Circuit ruling in Bruce Matthew v. The National Football League Management Council; Tennessee Titans, the players say, which established that an "employee who makes a prima facie showing that his claim falls within the scope of California's workers' compensation regime may indeed be able to establish that an arbitration award prohibiting him from seeking such benefits violates California public policy."

It also ignores U.S. Supreme Court precedent, "which established that unions and management may not bargain away state-created rights," the players say.

And it is "inconsistent" with the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, "which allows California to apply its workers' compensation laws to the exclusion of other state's law, even if, as here, the employee and employer agreed to waive protections afforded by California's statutory law."

The players cite Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act in both lawsuits.

"The arbitration award, if not vacated, would mean that every NFL player who sustained injury in California but agreed to a non-California choice of law and/or choice of forum provision in their NFL player contract waived the statutorily non-waivable rights, protections, and privileges of California's workers' compensation statute," the complaints state. "This result is clearly contrary to Supreme Court and 9th Circuit precedent and basic principles of federal labor law. ...

"Parties to a collective bargaining agreement may not require that employees forgo accepting employee benefits mandated by state law."

Federal judges have ruled against former Chicago Bears players and a Tennessee Titans coach who sought to collect workers comp in California.

The plaintiffs seek an order vacating the arbitration award.

They are represented by Jordan Cohen, of San Diego.

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