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Jon Gruden’s Lawsuit Against the NFL Can Proceed in Open Court

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Jon Gruden won two vital battles in his civil suit against the N.F.L. on Wednesday when a judge in Clark County, Nev., denied two of the league’s legal motions — one to dismiss his lawsuit outright and the opposite to compel a closed-door arbitration.

Gruden filed the lawsuit in November 2021, a month after The Latest York Times’s report on emails during which he made homophobic and misogynistic remarks led him to resign from his position as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. One other email exchange, during which he used racist language when referring to DeMaurice Smith, the chief director of the N.F.L. players’ union, who’s Black, had been reported by The Wall Street Journal.

In his suit, Gruden claimed that the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell intentionally leaked the emails and sought to destroy his profession and status through “a malicious and orchestrated campaign.”

Judge Nancy Allf, within the Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County, heard oral arguments from either side, while Gruden looked on within the courtroom. She concluded that the defendants’ arguments didn’t meet the high bar in Nevada for the case to be dismissed outright. She also denied the N.F.L.’s motion to maneuver the case to arbitration, noting that she was “concerned with the commissioner having the only real power to find out any worker disputes.”

Brian McCarthy, an N.F.L. spokesman, said the league planned to file an appeal of the court’s decision on arbitration and reiterated that the league denies having leaked the emails.

The N.F.L. argued that the league’s structure calls for any worker dispute involving conduct the commissioner deems detrimental to the league be sent to arbitration, and that there was little doubt that Gruden’s emails met that definition. But in her decision, Judge Allf said the detrimental conduct the league referred to didn’t happen through the time Gruden was under contract with the Raiders.

Though the emails were made public early last season — Gruden’s fourth 12 months of a second stint with the Raiders — they were sent over seven years, ending in 2018, while Gruden was working as an analyst for ESPN. Gruden has not denied sending the disparaging emails to Bruce Allen, the previous Washington Commanders team president, and others. They were collected as a part of the league’s investigation into the workplace culture on the Washington Commanders. In his suit, he alleged that Goodell and the N.F.L. intentionally leaked the emails to create a distraction from criticism of their handling of the Washington investigation.

Understand the N.F.L.’s Recent Controversies

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A wave of scrutiny. The most well-liked sports league in America is facing criticism and legal issues on several fronts, starting from discrimination to athletes’ injuries. Here’s a take a look at among the recent controversies confronting the N.F.L., its executives and teams:

Allegations of potential fraud. A former team executive for the Washington Commanders claimed that the team skimmed revenue from ticket sales meant to be shared with the remainder of the N.F.L. and withheld security deposits from fans. The franchise has sent 102 pages of documents rebutting the claims to the Federal Trade Commission.

Sexual harassment claims. Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Commanders, is the topic of an N.F.L. inquiry after sexual harassment allegations were made against him by former employees. In July, the league fined the franchise $10 million after an investigation into allegations of harassment within the team’s front office.

A demoralizing culture for girls. After the 2014 Ray Rice scandal, the N.F.L. stepped up its efforts to rent and promote women. But greater than 30 former staff members interviewed by The Times described a stifling corporate culture that has left many ladies feeling dismissed. Six attorneys general warned the league to deal with the issues or it could face an investigation.

Judge Allf’s ruling signifies that, for now, Gruden’s claims will remain in open court, as either side enter a potentially revealing discovery process that the N.F.L. has sought to avoid in other labor disputes. The choice comes because the N.F.L. prepares to file a motion to compel Brian Flores’s discrimination lawsuit against the league to arbitration, a move that Flores and his lawyers have publicly opposed.

While Gruden’s lawyers argued that a choice to send his case to arbitration would create a troubling precedent for other worker disputes, it’s unclear how or if this ruling may have any impact on how Flores’s case will probably be handled. A state district court ruling would don’t have any direct impact on a case in federal court, though judges can look to judgments from other courts to tell their decisions. Flores, the previous head coach of the Miami Dolphins, has claimed that the N.F.L. and its member teams discriminate against Black head coaching candidates of their hiring processes.

“We’ve got argued that the arbitration clauses at issue are unconscionable on condition that the Commissioner, who has made his views abundantly clear about this matter, cannot act because the judge and jury and fairly oversee the litigation of this matter,” Douglas Wigdor, considered one of Flores’s lawyers, said via email on Wednesday.

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