NFL Teams Can’t Collect All Of Players’ Workers’ Comp Awards

NU Online News Service, March  30, 12:13 p.m. EDT

A U.S. District Court judge has granted the National Football League Players Association a permanent injunction against the league, resolving a workers’ compensation-related dispute that has gone on for decades.

Judge Paul A. Crotty ruled that a paragraph in the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)—a matter of contention since 1977—provides only for a time offset that NFL teams can take from injured players’ state workers’ comp awards. In other words, teams are only permitted to collect an offset, or reimbursement, based on a formula that calculates when players received salary and workers' comp payments at the same time.

Teams had argued they were entitled to a dollar-for-dollar offset—reimbursement of all of the workers’ comp awarded to a player—to offset the salary benefits paid by teams to players.

Adam J. Kaiser, an attorney who represents the players, said the ruling was "incredibly important." The contracts of current players are not guaranteed, meaning teams can drop them if they are hurt and can no longer play. Additionally, former players receive no post-employment health insurance.

"The NFL talks a good game when it comes to taking care of its players but they despise them," Kaiser says. "Injured players just cost them money."

The issue has gone to arbitration multiple times. Crotty basically upheld a previous arbitration decision on the matter, as Kaiser says he has been fighting with teams for about 7 years and won on every level. But during the final year of the CBA teams attempted to find a way around previous rulings, saying they only applied to specific players on specific teams involved in past litigation, and were more aggressive in going after full reimbursement.

"The only way to deal with them was to go back to Judge Crotty and have him confirm the arbitral award the players won and grant a permanent injunction," Kaiser says. With the ruling from a federal judge, the players now have an enforceable federal court judgement, he adds.

“The case here involves an attempt to continuously re-arbitrate the interpretation of the same contractual provision,” Crotty writes. “The court considered and rejected all of [the teams’] other arguments in opposition to this motion.”

The players asked the judge to hold the teams in contempt, but Crotty stopped short of doing so. At least, not "at this juncture," he writes.

The collective bargaining agreement expired on March 11, and the owners have locked out the players.

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