Sports

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden loses Nevada high court ruling in NFL emails lawsuit

LAS VEGAS — (AP) — Former NFL coach Jon Gruden lost a Nevada Supreme Court ruling Tuesday in a contract interference and conspiracy lawsuit he filed against the league after he resigned from the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021, but his lawyer said he will appeal.

A three-justice panel split 2-1, saying the league can force the civil case out of state court and into private arbitration that might be overseen by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Gruden's attorney, Adam Hosmer-Henner, said he will appeal to the full seven-member state high court to hear the case.

“The panel’s split decision would leave Nevada an outlier where an employer can unilaterally determine whether an employee’s dispute must go to arbitration and also allow the employer to adjudicate the dispute as the arbitrator," the attorney said.

Attorney Kannon Shanmugam, representing the NFL, declined to comment on the ruling.

Gruden's lawsuit, filed in November 2021, alleges the league forced him into resigning from the Raiders by leaking racist, sexist and homophobic emails that he sent many years earlier, when he was at ESPN.

The panel majority, Justices Elissa Cadish and Kristina Pickering, said Gruden “expressly acknowledged” in his contract with the Raiders that he understood the NFL constitution allowed for arbitration to resolve disputes.

They also said it wasn't clear that Goodell would arbitrate Gruden’s case, citing other cases in which the commissioner designated third-party arbitrators to hear disputes.

“As a former Super Bowl champion coach and long-time media personality signing the most lucrative NFL coaching contract in history, while being represented by an elite agent, Gruden was the very definition of a sophisticated party,” Cadish and Pickering wrote.

In her dissent, Justice Linda Marie Bell said the NFL constitution was a 447-page “take-it-or-leave-it” add-on to Gruden's seven-page contract with the Raiders that left him with “unequal bargaining power."

“The majority indicates, and I agree, that the employment agreement is substantively unconscionable because Goodell acting as arbitrator is outrageous,” Bell wrote.

Gruden was the Raiders head coach when the team moved in 2020 from Oakland to Las Vegas. He left the team with more than six seasons remaining on his record 10-year, $100 million contract. Raiders owner Mark Davis later said the team reached a settlement with Gruden over the final years of his contract. The terms were not disclosed.

The league appealed to the state high court after a May 2022 decision by Clark County District Court Judge Nancy Allf, who has since retired from the bench. Allf ruled that Gruden's claim that the league intentionally leaked only his documents could show evidence of "specific intent" or an act designed to cause a particular result.

Gruden's emails went to former Washington Commanders executive Bruce Allen from 2011 to 2018, when Gruden was at ESPN. They were found amid some 650,000 emails the league obtained during an investigation into the workplace culture of the Washington team.

Gruden alleges that disclosure of the emails and their publication by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times destroyed his career and scuttled endorsement contracts. He is seeking monetary damages.

Gruden previously coached in the NFL from 1990 to 2008, including head coaching stints in Oakland and with the 2003 Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He spent several years as a TV analyst for ESPN before being hired by the Raiders again in 2018.

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Associated Press Sports Writer Mark Anderson contributed to this report.

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