(CN) – In a decision that could send the National Football League’s uniform anti-doping policy into disarray, the 8th Circuit ruled that the league’s collective bargaining agreement does not override Minnesota law.
The decision means that Pat and Kevin Williams of the Minnesota Vikings will be allowed to play every game this season, despite being suspended by the NFL for testing positive for banned substances in 2008.
The players took “StarCaps,” an over-the-counter supplement that, unbeknownst to the players and the league, contained bumetanide, a banned masking agent.
The players sued the league under the Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act (DATWA), which is more employee-friendly than the NFL’s policy. The state policy gives an employee the right to explain the positive test, while the NFL’s does not.
Because the players’ claim hinges on Minnesota law and not on the league’s doping policy or the collective bargaining agreement, the state law is not preempted, the three-judge appeal panel ruled, upholding a district court decision.
The NFL’s attorneys argued that the league’s anti-doping policy should preempt state law, because the league policy is a product of a collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union and is governed by federal labor law. The NFL is governed by a strict liability policy wherein players are responsible for what they put in their bodies, and players are warned repeatedly that even substances not specifically banned can lead to a suspension.
“NFL is essentially arguing that an employee has no DATWA claim if he or she is a party to a [collective bargaining agreement] that is at least as protective of the employee as DATWA. We disagree,” the St. Paul-based appeals court ruled.
The league also argued that if the court ruled that its anti-doping policy didn’t supersede state laws, it would make it “nearly impossible” to enforce. But the court remained unconvinced, citing prior rulings saying that preemption did not give employers and unions the “power to displace any state regulatory law they found inconvenient.”