John Gruden’s lawsuit against the NFL could be heard in open court

John Gruden won two major battles in his civil suit against the NFL on Wednesday when a judge in Clark County, Nevada, denied two of the league’s legal motions – one to dismiss his lawsuit outright and the other to force a closed arbitration.

Gruden filed the lawsuit in November 2021, a month after The New York Times report on emails in which he made homophobic and misogynistic remarks led him to step down as head coach from the Las Vegas Raiders. Another email exchange in which he used racist language The Wall Street Journal reported that the man in question was DeMaurice Smith, the chief executive of the NFL Players Union, who is black.

In his lawsuit, Gruden alleged that the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell deliberately leaked the emails and sought to destroy his career and reputation through a “malicious and orchestrated campaign.”

Judge Nancy Allf of the Clark County Eighth Judicial District Court heard oral arguments from both sides, while Gruden watched the proceedings in the courtroom. She concluded that the defendants’ arguments did not meet the high bar in Nevada for the case to be completely dismissed. She also denied the NFL’s motion to arbitrate the case, noting that she was “concerned that the commissioner has the sole authority to resolve any employee dispute.”

Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, said the league plans to appeal the arbitration ruling and confirmed that the league denies the emails were leaked.

The NFL argued that the league’s constitution required that any employee dispute relating to conduct that the commissioner deems detrimental to the league be referred to arbitration, and that Gruden’s emails certainly met that definition. But in her decision, Judge Allf said the harmful behavior the league alleges did not take place at the time Gruden was under contract with the Raiders.

Although the emails were made public at the start of last season — in the fourth year of Gruden’s second tenure with the Raiders — they were sent out over the seven years ending in 2018 while Gruden was an analyst at ESPN. Gruden did not deny that he sent disparaging emails to Bruce Allen, the former president of the Washington Commanders, and others. They were collected as part of the league’s investigation into workplace culture at Washington Commanders. In his lawsuit, he alleged that Goodell and the NFL deliberately leaked the emails to divert attention from criticism of their approach to the investigation in Washington.

Judge Alpha’s decision means Gruden’s claims will remain in open court for the time being as both sides enter a potentially revealing disclosure process that the NFL has sought to avoid in other labor disputes. The decision comes as the NFL prepares to file a motion to refer Brian Flores’ anti-league discrimination lawsuit to arbitration, which Flores and his lawyers have publicly opposed.

While Gruden’s lawyers have argued that the decision to take his case to arbitration would set a worrying precedent for other employee disputes, it’s unclear how or if the decision will affect how Flores’ case will be handled. The decision of the state district court will not directly affect the case in federal court, although judges may rely on decisions from other courts to support their decisions. Flores, a former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, said the NFL and its member teams discriminate against black head coach candidates in their hiring.

“We have argued that the arbitration clauses in question are in bad faith, given that the commissioner, who has made his views on this matter as clear as possible, cannot act as judge and jury and fairly supervise the proceedings on this matter,” Douglas Wigdor, one of the Lawyers for Flores said in an email on Wednesday.