Monday, April 25, 2011

NFL players are employees of their particular teams

In the course of determining that Minnesota's drug-testing statute (providing substantive and procedural rights to employees) was not preempted under LMRA §301 (29 U.S.C. §185) by the NFL-NFLPA* collective bargaining agreement, the Eighth Circuit gathered cases in an aside about who is an NFL player's employer. The answer — the team —is not surprising. What is surprising is that the issue appears to have been directly addressed by the federal courts only in a workers comp context.
We note that the matter of who is the employer of an NFL player was addressed in Brown v. Nat’l Football League, 219 F. Supp. 2d 372 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). There, a former NFL player brought a personal injury action in state court against the NFL, seeking damages for a career-ending eye injury he sustained during a game when a referee threw a penalty flag that struck the player in the eye. Id. at 375. The district court observed, “At the time of his injury, Brown worked not for the NFL, but for the Cleveland Browns Football Company, a Delaware limited partnership and an entirely separate entity which happens to be a member of the NFL.” Id. at 383. The owners of NFL teams “own franchises in the NFL and employ the [U]nion members as football players.” Id.; see also Clarett v. Nat’l Football League, 369 F.3d 124, 138 (2d Cir. 2004) (“Because the NFL players have unionized and have selected the NFLPA as its exclusive bargaining representative, labor law prohibits Clarett from negotiating directly the terms and conditions of his employment with any NFL club[.]”); White v. Nat’l Football League, 41 F.3d 402, 406 (8th Cir. 1994), abrogated on other grounds by Amchem Prods. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591 (1997) (“The settlement agreement [at issue] purports to end a six-year dispute between the NFL member teams and their player-employees.”); Chuy v. Philadelphia Eagles Football Club, 595 F.2d 1265, 1269 (3d Cir. 1979) (“This appeal presents several interesting questions growing out of the employment by the Philadelphia Eagles Football Club (‘the Eagles’) of a former professional player, Don Chuy (‘Chuy’).”). We do not address the impact of this on the Players’ ability to prevail on their DATWA claim against the NFL.
Williams v. NFL, Nos. 09-2247/2462/2249 (8th Cir. Sep. 11, 2009), slip op. at 18-19 n.12, cert. denied, No. 09-1380 (U.S. Dec. 14, 2009).

*The NFLPA's website,, is appropriately blank (given the decertification decision) and redirects the viewer to, where — among other delights — there is a clock showing to the second the length of the lockout.