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Missouri Judge Rules that NFL Arbitration Has "Potential for Very Real Bias

Tuesday, October, 29, 2013


Todd Hewitt, a former Rams equipment manager who was fired in 2011, recently appealed a ruling by the St. Louis County Circuit Court that his lawsuit against the NFL had to be handled through third-party arbitration.  Wishing to file a lawsuit claiming age discrimination, Hewitt didn’t see the point of having an arbitrator hear his case—particularly one who was hired by the NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell. 


To the surprise of many, Hewitt won his appeal when a Missouri Court of Appeals declared the arbitration policy "unconscionable and unenforceable," noting that "the Arbitration Provision does not afford a mechanism to ensure the fairness and impartiality of the arbitration proceeding." This ruling by Judge Kurt S. Odenwald fell short of a claim that the chosen arbitrator is or would be overtly prejudiced, but did insist that the potential was there. 


Before NFL players can celebrate the ruling too much, however, it is important to point out that the judge distinguished a contract that an employee was forced to sign by his employer and a contract that was negotiated by union officials representing the NFL players.  This distinction will likely make this small ruling one that is of little consequence to any players who have appealed, or might appeal, an NFL-appointed arbitrator’s ruling