The NFL has filed a grievance with the NFL Players Association, requesting that New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma withdraw his defamation suit against Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Vilma is suing Goodell in federal court for defamation relating to Goodell's suspension of Vilma and other players in the Saints' "bounty" program. The NFL Management Council contends -- in a letter dated July 3 and reported Wednesday by the Times-Picayune -- that Vilma's suit violates the league's collective bargaining agreement, which has a clause preventing players from suing the NFL or any club.
"Clearly, League Discipline, and the Commissioner's responsibility for upholding that Policy, is 'conduct permitted by the CBA' and under the NFL's Constitution and Bylaws. Because all challenged communication occurred in furtherance of the Commissioner's responsibility, such conduct falls squarely within the protections of Article 3's no-suit provision," the letter says.
Vilma, who separately is seeking an injunction that would prevent his season-long suspension from taking effect, responded to the NFL's action with the following tweet Wednesday:
The nfl sent me a letter "demanding" I drop my defamation suit or else...lol or else wat?!?? They no likey me lawsuitey
- Jonathan Vilma (@JonVilma51) July 11, 2012
In a letter from Vilma’s lawyer Peter Ginsberg to NFL senior vice president of labor litigation and policy Dennis Curran, obtained by NFL.com and NFL Network reporter Albert Breer, four reasons were detailed in claiming that “the grievance is baseless.”
First, Ginsberg claimed the league’s failure to serve he or Vilma with the grievance, rather serving it to NFLPA general counsel Tom DePaso, meant that the grievance “triggers no legal obligation on Mr. Vilma’s behalf.” Second, Ginsberg cited language in the CBA article the NFL was enforcing, saying it only applies to suits “against the NFL or any club,” while Vilma’s lawsuit is against Goodell.
Third, Ginsberg said the NFL “inaccurately states” that the legal action arose from “Goodell’s imposition of discipline.” Ginsberg said, conversely, “Mr. Goodell has been sued for his wantonly false and irresponsible public accusations and allegations against Mr. Vilma apart from any conduct as commissioner.” And fourth, Ginsberg said the “grievance constitutes an improper effort to interfere with a pending judicial matter,” and that he and Vilma will consider seeking sanctions against the NFLMC if the grievance goes forward.
In a Thursday statement to NFL.com and NFL Network, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said: The CBA has a no-suit clause and we needed to file a grievance in order to be able to assert our rights under that clause. We disagree with Mr. Ginsberg's characterization of the grievance. We are following the CBA process; he is not.
A settlement conference has been set for July 23 in Louisiana District Court for the consolidated Vilma and NFLPA suits against the NFL, and Vilma has also filed for a TRO hearing in seeking a preliminary injunction to lift his season-long suspension until after the legal process plays out.