With the initial word Friday that the suit filed by the NFL Players Association on behalf of Kevin Williams, Pat Williams and several New Orleans Saints players had been dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson, it sounded bad for the Williams Wall. But, upon further review, perhaps the ruling isn't as damning as it may have appeared at first look.
While the NFLPA doesn't have a leg to stand on with its lawsuit against the NFL, the heart of the Williamses' appeal is still in place and being sent to state court, which was the original intent of the fight to get the four-game suspension appealed in the first place. It was the NFL that appealed to have the case switched to federal court, with many legal experts believing that the Williamses likely had a better chance of winning in state court, where Minnesota courts are known for being strong advocates of employee rights.
In a statement made to the Star-Tribune, attorney Peter Ginsberg, who represents both Pat and Kevin Williams, said the crux of their appeal remains untouched by Friday's ruling.
"This gives my clients a terrific case," Ginsberg said. "Judge Magnuson kept alive the heart of our case, which is that the NFL improperly violated Kevin and Pat's privacy rights and due process in administering these suspensions. We brought this case in state court because we believed the state courts in Minnesota had the most interest in protecting employees' rights. Judge Magnuson agrees and now it's back in state court, which is the forum that the NFL tried to run away from."
In an e-mail statement, NFL Senior Vice President of Public Relations Greg Aiello said the league remains confident that it will prevail and that Friday's ruling should not be interpreted as a victory for the players.
"We believe there are very significant barriers to a successful suit in the Minnesota courts," Aiello said. "We are not concerned with the case as it now stands."
The one part of Magnuson's 23-page ruling that could harm the Williamses case the most concerned the contention that the league knowingly withheld information from them and three Saints players that the diuretic StarCaps contained the banned substance bumetanide. In his ruling, Magnuson agreed with the NFL's stance that players are responsible for what they put in their own bodies – whether the products have accurate labeling of ingredients or not.
What gives Ginsberg the most hope of prevailing is stronger Minnesota laws that will come into play in a state court hearing. First is that, under the Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act, employers can't discipline employees based solely on one positive test and requires that other procedures must be followed before any sanction can be administered. Secondly, the Minnesota Consumable Products Act says that an employer can't take action against employees who have consumed legal consumable products if it happens off-sight of the workplace or during non-working hours. Both of these scenarios would seem to remain on the side of the Williams Wall.
The case will now be returned to Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson, who had the case initially and was the judge who ordered the restraining order last year that prevented the suspensions from initially taking place. There is no immediate word as to whether the new court schedule will remain the same. The Williamses were set to go to trial June 15, but that was with Judge Magnuson. There is no guarantee that Judge Larson will keep the same sort of timeline, meaning this case may be farther away from being resolved than it appeared just last week.
Both sides confident in StarCaps case
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