SHERMAN, Texas (CN) – Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott and his union sued the National Football League late Thursday, seeking to block a six-game domestic violence suspension they claim is the result of a conspiracy to hide critical information that exonerates him.
The NFL Players Association filed a lawsuit against the league on Elliott’s behalf in Sherman, Texas federal court Thursday evening.
Elliott was suspended for violating the league’s personal conduct policy based on allegations of abuse made by Tiffany Thompson, of Columbus, Ohio, last year.
He appealed the suspension, which was heard this week by league-appointed arbitrator Harold Henderson. Henderson is expected to rule by Tuesday.
Elliott has not been criminally charged for the alleged assault.
The union claims the NFL’s lead investigator, Kia Roberts, recommended no discipline be imposed after interviewing Thompson. The NFLPA and Elliott say Roberts concluded that Thompson “was not credible” and there was “insufficient corroborating evidence of her incredible allegations.”
“The withholding of this critical information from the disciplinary process was a momentous denial of the fundamental fairness required in every arbitration and, of course, does not satisfy federal labor law’s minimal due process requirements,” the 31-page complaint states. “Further, the fundamental unfairness set forth above was then compounded, multiple times, by denying Elliott the opportunity to confront his accuser and have her sit for cross-examination, a denial which deprived Elliott and the union of the most basic rights of a fundamentally fair procedure, in a proceeding where everyone agreed that the credibility of the accuser and Elliott were essential to resolution.”
The NFLPA claims the arbitrator failed to call NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – the man who handed down the suspension – to testify, resulting in additional deprivation of fairness to Elliott.
“Without testimony from the commissioner, it was not possible to determine the full impact of the conspiracy, or precisely what the commissioner knew or did not know about his co-lead investigator’s conclusion that there was not sufficient credible evidence to proceed with any discipline under a league personal conduct policy that required ‘credible evidence’ to support the charges in a case like this, where the player has been accused of domestic violence, but law enforcement investigated and rightly declined to bring any charges due to conflicting evidence and inconsistent accounts of the alleged events,” the lawsuit states.
The NFL vehemently denied this allegation Friday morning, saying it is “unequivocally, absolutely false” that Goodell did not know of Roberts’ findings before he suspended Elliott.
“The idea that this was a conspiracy is false,” league spokesman Joe Lockhart said. “The credibility issues were addressed at length in the investigative report. Kia Roberts’ points were made very clearly. The 160-page report included a fulsome description of the credibility problems of both Tiffany Thompson and Ezekiel Elliott.”
Elliott’s attorneys, Frank Salzano and Scott Rosenblum, said they “have witnessed some of the most egregious violations of legal due process” during the league’s investigation into their client.
“Not only did the underlying facts not support the false allegations made against Mr. Elliott, but the process in which they were gathered and adjudicated [was] fundamentally unfair,” the pair said in a written statement. “Mr. Elliott looks forward to being completely vindicated and will continue to explore all other legal options to redress the reputational and monetary harm that he has suffered.”
The union seeks a temporary injunction and the vacating of Henderson’s pending arbitration ruling under Labor Management Relations Act and Federal Arbitration Act. It is represented by Thomas M. Melsheimer with Winston Strawn in Dallas.