Former NFL coach Jon Gruden won a key battle last week in his ongoing lawsuit against the NFL. Until last October, Gruden was the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders under a 10-year, $100 million contract. He abruptly resigned after revelations that he had persistently used substantial racist, misogynistic, and homophobic language in emails sent between 2011 and 2018, while he worked at ESPN. These were leaked during an NFL investigation into the workplace culture of the Washington NFL team. (The owner of the Washington team was among the recipients of the emails.)
Gruden still had six years remaining on his contract when he resigned, but he reached a settlement on the contract with the Raiders shortly afterward. A month after resigning, Gruden filed suit against the NFL. He sought damages on theories of contract interference and conspiracy. While Gruden does not deny sending the emails or their offensive content, he argues that the NFL leaked his emails selectively and intentionally to undermine his coaching opportunities and endorsements. His attorney has said that the League initially demanded that the Raiders fire him. When he coached the next game, according to the attorney, the NFL threatened to reveal more documents if he did not leave the team. The NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell have consistently denied these claims.
Last week, though, a judge in Nevada rejected an NFL attempt to dismiss the case, or alternatively force it into arbitration. The judge noted that the claim that the leak involved only his emails could indicate specific intent by the League to cause the type of harm that he is alleging. Gruden’s attorney pointed out that moving the case to arbitration would cause a serious conflict of interest, since this would allow Goodell to oversee the resolution of a dispute in which he is an alleged wrongdoer. The arbitration clause in his contract with the Raiders lost its effect when he resigned, according to the attorney.
While denying the motion to dismiss does not necessarily mean that Gruden will win on the merits, it positions him more favorably in any settlement negotiations. Meanwhile, the NFL will appeal last week’s ruling.
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