New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is suing the NFL in federal court, claiming Commissioner Roger Goodell failed to make a timely appeal ruling regarding the player's season-long suspension in connection with the league's bounty investigation.
The lawsuit, filed Saturday night in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, also asks for a temporary restraining order to allow Vilma to continue working if Goodell upholds the suspension.
The suit contends Goodell has undermined "the integrity of the NFL and the Commissioner's office" by handing down punishments to Vilma and others based on evidence that is either flawed or cannot be substantiated.
It is the second lawsuit Vilma has filed in the matter. The first, filed in May and also in federal court in New Orleans, seeks unspecified damages from Goodell for defamation of character.
In his latest filing, Vilma claims the NFL's collective bargaining agreement required Goodell to rule as soon as was practical following a June 18 appeal hearing. Because players, in protest, declined to present new evidence or argue their case in the hearing, Goodell should have been able to rule by June 25, the first business day after the record was closed in the matter, the lawsuit argues. The NFL has said there is no timetable for a ruling.
Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, also recently filed a notice with the federal court in Louisiana that the linebacker will file for an injunction once Goodell finally rules on the appeals. Once Goodell rules, Vilma will file the lawsuit against the commissioner, then file an injunction asking that he be allowed to work -- play for the Saints -- until all legal proceedings are completed.
In his latest attack of the NFL's handling of the bounty probe, Vilma contends punished players only have been able to see less than 1 percent of the 18,000 documents the league said it has compiled. His suit also claims the few key pieces of evidence the league shared, including printed reproductions of handwritten notes, are flawed.
"The NFL's alteration of other documents evidences that the NFL cannot substantiate the suspension, and undermines the integrity of the process," Vilma's lawsuit states.
Reached early Sunday, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello offered the following statement: "We have not yet had an opportunity to review Mr. Vilma's improper effort to litigate a matter that is committed to a collectively bargained process. There is no basis for asking a federal court to substitute its judgment for the procedures agreed upon by the NFL and NFLPA, procedures that have been in place, and have served the game well, for decades."
Vilma is one of four current or former Saints players suspended for their roles in the team's bounty program. Anthony Hargrove was suspended eight games, Will Smith for four and Scott Fujita for three.
Vilma's latest filing was done independently of the other three players -- as has been the case with his other filings. Hargrove, Smith and Fujita haven't taken any legal action outside of the processes outlined for recourse in the collective bargaining agreement. Using lawyers from the NFL Players Association, the players filed two grievances with arbitrators -- and lost -- and attended an appeal hearing with Goodell but didn't defend themselves.
Vilma's lawsuit seeks to discredit a key piece of evidence outlining bounty pledges from before the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota in January 2010, and also takes aim at fired assistant coach Mike Cerullo, who, according to Vilma, produced the document for the league.
Cerullo had a vendetta against the Saints after his firing following the 2009 season and resented that the Super Bowl ring he received had been made with imitation (cubic zirconia) diamonds, the lawsuit contends.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.