Sixth Circuit partially rejects NFL Players Association preemption argument, allowing some of agent’s claims to proceed – Employee Rights/Labour Relations

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In a direct challenge to the regulatory authority that players’ associations have always maintained over the conduct of the agents they oversee and certify, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that three of the five claims State law claims asserted by a certified agent against the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) are not preempted by federal labor laws. (Vincent Porter vs. National Football League Players AssociationUnited States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Case Number 21-140).

While the District Court upheld the NFLPA’s argument that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Labor Relations Act (LMRA) applied and prevailed over all of Plaintiff’s five claims Vincent Porter v. Association, the circuit court panel rejected this broad ban and ruled that only three of these claims were not preempted by federal labor laws and could proceed. Specifically, the court said Section 9 of the NLRA does not prejudge Porter’s claims of negligence, breach of contract, and dereliction of duty, as her claims are not considered a challenge to the role of the NFLPA. as the exclusive union representative of NFL players.

Porter, an NFLPA-certified NFL agent, was suspended by the NFLPA after being charged with wire fraud conspiracy stemming from an accusation that he worked with two financial advisers to allegedly overcharge clients for an investment in Burger King franchises, in an effort to keep millions of dollars in overpayments for their personal benefit. About a year later, the charges were eventually dropped by prosecutors in conjunction with Porter entering a deferred prosecution program.

After successfully challenging his suspension as a certified agent and winning reinstatement, Porter filed suit in Michigan state court in 2019, alleging that despite his successful efforts to be reinstated as an agent certified, the union continued to “punish, harass and/or interfere” with Porter’s ability to work as a certified agent.

The NFLPA withdrew the case to the federal district court, and in March 2021 that court ruled that the NLRA and LMRA specifically preempt everything Porter State Law Claims. The court found that as a certified agent of the NFLPA, Porter was bound by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players, and that Porter’s claims related to the employment of NFL players and his right to act as their personal negotiating representative. .

The Sixth Circuit disagreed and concluded that while Section 9 of the NLRA prevails over state law claims that directly challenge the NFLPA’s right of exclusive representation, no
everything challenges to the methods by which the NFLPA delegates its authority are anticipated.
The court therefore concluded that Porter’s claims of tortious interference with his business expectations and business relationships were preempted because they arose from the union’s authority to represent players contained in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). However, the court remanded the case to the district court to consider Porter’s unanticipated claims of negligence, breach of duty, and breach of contract, as these are direct claims between Porter and the NFLPA and unrelated to the ABC and union exclusivity. right to act as the designated representative for NFL player collective bargaining.

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Andrew B. Reiter