Jon Gruden’s Lawsuit Against the N.F.L. Can Proceed in Open Court

Jon Gruden won two important battles in his civil suit against the N.F.L. on Wednesday when a judge in Clark County, Nev., denied two of the league’s legal motions — one to dismiss his lawsuit outright and the other to compel a closed-door arbitration.

Gruden filed the lawsuit in November 2021, a month after The New York Times’ report on emails in which he made homophobic and misogynistic remarks led him to resign from his position as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Another email exchange, in which he used racist language when referring to DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the N.F.L. players’ union, who is Black, had been reported by The Wall Street Journal.

In his suit, Gruden claimed that the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell intentionally leaked the emails and sought to destroy his career and reputation through “a malicious and orchestrated campaign.”

Judge Nancy Allf, in the Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County, heard oral arguments from both sides, while Gruden looked on in the courtroom. She concluded that the defendants’ arguments did not meet the high bar in Nevada for the case to be dismissed outright. She also denied the N.F.L.’s motion to move the case to arbitration, noting that she was “concerned with the commissioner having the sole power to determine any employee disputes.”

Brian McCarthy, an N.F.L. spokesman, said the league planned to file an appeal of the court’s decision on arbitration and reiterated that the league denies having leaked the emails.

The N.F.L. argued that the league’s constitution calls for any employee dispute involving conduct the commissioner deems detrimental to the league be sent to arbitration, and that there was no doubt that Gruden’s emails met that definition. But in her decision, Judge Alff said the detrimental conduct the league referred to did not take place during the time Gruden was under contract with the Raiders.

Though the emails were made public early last season — Gruden’s fourth year of a second stint with the Raiders — they were sent over seven years, ending in 2018, while Gruden was working as an analyst for ESPN. Gruden has not denied sending the disparaging emails to Bruce Allen, the former Washington Commanders team president, and others. They were collected as part of the league’s investigation into the workplace culture at the Washington Commanders. In his suit, he alleged that Goodell and the N.F.L. intentionally leaked the emails to create a distraction from criticism of their handling of the Washington investigation.

Understand the N.F.L.’s Recent Controversies

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A wave of scrutiny. The most popular sports league in America is facing criticism and legal issues on several fronts, ranging from discrimination to athletes’ injuries. Here’s a look at some of the recent controversies confronting the N.F.L., its executives and teams:

Allegations of potential fraud. A former team executive for the Washington Commanders claimed that the team skimmed revenue from ticket sales meant to be shared with the rest of the N.F.L. and withheld security deposits from fans. The franchise has sent 102 pages of documents rebutting the claims to the Federal Trade Commission.

Sexual harassment claims. Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Commanders, is the subject of an N.F.L. inquiry after sexual harassment allegations were made against him by former employees. In July, the league fined the franchise $10 million after an investigation into allegations of harassment in the team’s front office.

Racial descrimination lawsuit. The former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who is Black and Hispanic, sued the N.F.L. and its 32 teams for racial descrimination in their hiring practices. Mr. Flores was later hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a defensive assistant coach. Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, two Black former coaches, have joined the ongoing lawsuit.

A demoralizing culture for women. After the 2014 Ray Rice scandal, the N.F.L. stepped up its efforts to hire and promote women. But more than 30 former staff members interviewed by The Times described a stifling corporate culture that has left many women feeling pushed aside. Six attorneys general warned the league to address the problems or it could face an investigation.

The fallout from brain injuries. Recent violence and deaths by suicide have again highlighted the league’s longtime issues with C.T.E., a brain disease found in a number of deceased players. In addition to a nearly $1 billion settlement, the N.F.L. agreed to stop using race-based methods in evaluating dementia claims.

Judge Alff’s ruling means that, for now, Gruden’s claims will remain in open court, as both sides enter a potentially revealing discovery process that the N.F.L. has sought to avoid in other labor disputes. The decision comes as the N.F.L. prepares to file a motion to compel Brian Flores’s discrimination lawsuit against the league to arbitration, a move that Flores and his lawyers have publicly opposed.

While Gruden’s lawyers argued that a decision to send his case to arbitration would create a troubling precedent for other employee disputes, it is unclear how or if this ruling will have any impact on how Flores’s case will be handled. A state district court ruling would have no direct impact on a case in federal court, though judges can look to judgments from other courts to inform their decisions. Flores, the former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, has claimed that the N.F.L. and its member teams discriminate against Black head coaching candidates in their hiring processes.

“We have argued that the arbitration clauses at issue are unconscionable given that the Commissioner, who has made his views abundantly clear about this matter, cannot act as the judge and jury and fairly oversee the litigation of this matter,” Douglas Wigdor, one of Flores’s lawyers, said via email on Wednesday.

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