United States District Court Judge Amos Mazzant ruled today in favor of Ezekiel Elliott, granting him a preliminary injunction against the NFL. It means that the Cowboys running back’s six-game suspension is blocked, at least for now.
Mazzant was asked to evaluate the NFL’s investigation, not determine Elliott’s guilt or innocence. “Based upon the preliminary injunction standard,” Mazzant wrote, “the Court finds, that Elliott did not receive a fundamentally fair hearing, necessitating the Court grant the request for preliminary injunction.”
The league office issued Elliott a six-game suspension last month, which he immediately appealed. Arbitrator Harold Henderson upheld the suspension, and the NFLPA sued the NFL on behalf of Elliott, which brought the NFL’s flawed investigation into allegations against Elliott to light. It seems that the league chose to punish Elliott for not cooperating more than anything, and Mazzant took issue with how the league went about suspending Elliott. He even cited the Tom Brady Ballghazi decision.
Thus, even though the Court is not deciding whether the NFL engaged in a conspiracy to achieve a certain result, the actions of the NFL have to be considered in the Court’s analysis of whether Henderson gave Elliott a fundamentally fair hearing. The Court recognizes and acknowledges that under ordinary circumstances, the denial of witnesses and documentary evidence falls within the discretion of the arbitrator. Brady II, 820 F.3d at 545 (citing United Paperworkers, 484 U.S. at 40); Am. Eagle Airlines, Inc., 343 F.3d at 405. However, the set of facts presented in this case are everything but ordinary and are such that the denial of key witnesses and documents amounts to serious misconduct by the arbitrator.
Mazzant decried the “fundamental unfairness” of the NFL’s suspension process.
Fundamental unfairness is present throughout the entire arbitration process. Due to such fundamental unfairness, the Court’s intervention is justified. The NFLPA was not given the opportunity to discharge its burden to show that Goodell’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. At every turn, Elliott and the NFLPA were denied the evidence or witnesses needed to meet their burden. Fundamental unfairness infected this case from the beginning, eventually killing any possibility that justice would be served. Accordingly, the Court finds that the NFLPA demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.
Mazzant also highlighted the fact that the NFL ignored Kia Roberts’s dissenting opinion.
The arbitration record shows that the NFL, at the very least, turned a blind eye to Roberts’s dissenting opinion. This entire set of circumstances was put in front of Henderson. It is in this light the Court views Henderson’s decisions to exclude Thompson and Commissioner Goodell as necessary witnesses, as gross errors resulting in a fundamentally unfair hearing.
The judge’s full decision can be read below.