The NFL Players Association has filed a lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of three players suspended in connection with the league's "bounty" scandal investigation.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in New Orleans, says NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell violated the collective bargaining agreement by publicly showing he had determined Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita had participated in a bounty system while with the New Orleans Saints even before serving as an arbitrator at their hearing.
"The NFL has rendered the arbitral process a fraud, refusing to provide the NFLPA with access to relevant evidence or any witnesses, while at the same time utilizing hearsay to smear and punish the players," the NFLPA attorneys said in the suit, according to the Times-Picayune.
The lawsuit asks a judge to set aside earlier arbitration rulings and order a new arbitrator to preside over the matter. The suit comes two days after Goodell denied appeals by four players. The other player, Jonathan Vilma, has sued the NFL and Goodell separately.
The NFL released the following statement in response to the lawsuit: "As in the case of Mr. Vilma's lawsuit, this is an improper attempt to litigate an issue that is committed to a collectively bargained process. There is no basis for asking a federal court to put its judgment in place of the procedures agreed upon with the NFLPA in collective bargaining. These procedures have been in place, and have served the game and players well, for many decades."
Vilma is suspended for the 2012 season, Hargrove for eight games, Smith for four games and Fujita for three games.
"A seminal question for this court is whether the NFL collective bargaining agreement ... granted the commissioner, when serving as an arbitrator, the authority to disregard the essence of the parties' agreement, to conduct proceedings that are fundamentally unfair, and to act with evident bias and without jurisdiction," the lawsuit states. "The answer, under governing case law, is clearly 'no.' "
In the lawsuit, the players, as they have in the past, "categorically" deny participating in any kind of "bounty" program designed to injure fellow players, adding the NFLPA would never defend such behavior.
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"The investigation and arbitration process that the commissioner's public relations machinery touted as 'thorough and fair' has, in reality, been a sham," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit says the NFL violated the labor agreement by refusing to provide the players with access to "critical documents or witnesses, or anything resembling the fairness mandated by the CBA and governing industrial due process law."
The suit also states that the players were subject to arbitration before an arbiter in Goodell, who had "launched a public campaign defending the punishments he intended to arbitrate, rendering him incurably and evidently biased."
The lawsuit also reiterates a claim that the CBA requires many of the "pay-for-performance" conduct outlined in the NFL's bounty investigation to be handled by a system arbitrator and not the commissioner, who has "improperly usurped" control over that process.
The NFL has argued that the bounty matter falls under conduct detrimental to the league, which the commissioner has authority to punish. Two arbitration rulings so far have ruled in the NFL's favor on that matter, but the NFLPA lawsuit says the NFL's handling of the bounty matter amounts to a "rare case" in which the arbitrator's rulings should be set aside.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.