NFL arbitration survives in Adrian Peterson's domestic violence case

The NFL Players Association is unhappy with the discipline NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been handing out in player misconduct cases. On the heels of the NFL's victory in the Tom Brady Deflategate case, the 8th Circuit has given the NFL another victory in Adrian Peterson's domestic violence case.

Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson pleaded nolo contendere to a charge of misdemeanor reckless assault on one of his children; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him and fined him a sum equivalent to six games’ pay; an arbitrator upheld the punishment. Unhappy, the NFL Players Association went to court and got a federal district court to vacate the arbitration decision, but the 8th Circuit reinstated the arbitrator's decision. National Football League Players Association v. National Football League (8th Cir 08/04/2016).

Retroactivity: After the NFL got some bad publicity over its handling of a domestic violence issue involving Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, Commissioner Goodell sent a letter saying that a first domestic violence offense would be subject to a suspension of six weeks without pay. Previously, such incidents had resulted in lesser penalties. Peterson's misconduct occurred before the Commissioner's letter, so the Players Association argued that the League had retroactively punished Peterson. The arbitrator disagreed, and the 8th Circuit said it was enough that the arbitrator relied on the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the law of the shop to reach this conclusion:

The arbitrator’s decision on this point was grounded in a construction and application of the terms of the Agreement and a specific arbitral precedent. It is therefore not subject to second-guessing by the courts.
The arbitrator at least arguably acted within the scope of the issues submitted to him, so his decision must be upheld.

Arbitrator impartiality: The Players Association also challenged the impartiality of the arbitrator, who had a long history as the League’s vice president for labor relations and chairman of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee. But this arbitrator had served in dozens of other cases without objection, and the 8th Circuit brushed aside the objection, saying:

Allowing the Commissioner or the Commissioner’s designee to hear challenges to the Commissioner’s decisions may present an actual or apparent conflict of interest for the arbitrator. But the parties bargained for this procedure, and the Association consented to it.

So once again we see a federal circuit court following the principle that courts owe great deference to the decisions of arbitrators.