To no surprise, Commissioner Roger Goodell has responded to the defamation lawsuit filed against him by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma with a request that the case be kicked out of court.
As expected, Goodell contends that the claims against him are pre-empted by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The argument, essentially, is that if Vilma has a gripe with Goodell, he needs to take it up with an arbitrator under the CBA.
Goodell also claims that Vilma’s lawsuit fails to specifically allege that the Commissioner made false statements regarding Vilma with “actual malice,” the standard for defamation claims made by public figures,” and that Vilma’s suit doesn’t allege that Goodell engaged in “outrageous” conduct, a prerequisite for a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Finally, Goodell contends that Louisiana’s “Anti-SLAPP” law limits the defamation claim, based on Goodell’s right to engage in free speech on matters of public importance. (The statute allows the discovery process to be delayed until the plaintiff can prove a probability of success.)
The claim that the CBA trumps the individual claims represents the strongest argument in Goodell’s arsenal. Vilma’s challenge will be to prove that the theories reflect individual rights existing independent of the labor deal.
It won’t be easy. Membership in a union entails the sacrifice of a worker’s rights to sue. If an individual employee has a gripe, it typically must be made within the confines of the grievance procedures available under the CBA.