(CN) – The National Football Leagues’s decision to suspend New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games over “Deflategate” was an unprecedented act wholly without justification, he and his union claim in Federal Court.
The dispute stems from an NFL-contracted investigator’s discovery that the New England Patriots used footballs inflated under the league’s minimum-prescribed level in a Jan. 18, 2015, championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.
After officials found the deflated balls midway through the game, the Patriots won 45-7, and a month later, beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
On May 11, the league suspended Brady without pay for the first four games of the 2015 season, but his union, the NFL Players Association, appealed his suspension under Article 46 of its collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Management Council three days later.
Five days after a hearing was held before nonparty NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York City, he issued an arbitration award and final written decision denying the union’s appeal and confirming Brady’s suspension on July 28.
That same day, the council sued the Players Association to confirm the award in New York City federal court.
The next day, the union sued the league in Minnesota Federal Court, to vacate the award.
But U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle transferred the case to Manhattan July 30.
The Players Association, in turn, on its own behalf and Brady’s, filed an amended answer and counterclaim Tuesday, taking issue with the person who decided to suspend the quarterback.
Though the bargaining agreement allows Goodell alone to take certain disciplinary actions against players, the commissioner “improperly abdicated his CBA role and delegated his disciplinary authority to NFL Executive Vice President Troy Vincent,” the complaint states.
The unions says Goodell had one of the league’s regular outside law firms, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, led by partner Theodore Wells, co-lead the “Deflategate” investigation along with NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeffrey Pash.
The firm and league issued the “Wells Report” on the investigation on May 6.
“Vincent, invoking the Competitive Integrity Policy, and resting solely on the limited factual conclusions from the Wells Report about Brady’s alleged “general awareness” suspended Brady for four games,” the 59-page complaint says.
But that policy is only provided to “‘chief executives, club presidents, general managers, and head coaches,'” the union claims. “The policy is not given to players, is not part of the annual Player Policies handed out to all players, and does not apply to them.”
Further, noting that no player has ever been suspended for tampering with footballs, the union says the league’s player policies notified Brady only of fines – not suspensions – for equipment violations designed for competitive advantage.
Indeed, “no NFL policy or precedent notifies players that they might be disciplined for general awareness of misconduct by other people,” according to the complaint. “For example, no player in NFL history has ever been suspended for being ‘generally aware’ that another player was taking steroids or committing any other type of policy violation.”
Brady also did not know he could be disciplined for not producing private messages sent to the law firm, as no player has ever been suspended for not cooperating in an NFL investigation, the complaint states.
Yet Wells allegedly testified that his conclusion that Brady “was ‘generally aware’ of inappropriate conduct by others, was heavily influenced by the adverse inference drawn from Brady’s decision not to produce his personal communications to Paul Weiss.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Jeffrey Kessler Winston & Strawn LLP in New York.
Courthouse News is awaiting comment from the defendants.
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