Monday, October 19, 2009
C.A.: Ex-Raider Employee’s Letter to Commissioner Not Arbitration Request
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A former Oakland Raiders employee’s request to the commissioner of the National Football League for assistance in an employment dispute with the team did not demonstrate an intent to initiate binding arbitration, the First District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Div. Four in an unpublished opinion held that former pro player personnel staff member George Streeter was not precluded from objecting to arbitration by his letter asking Commissioner Roger Goodell to “command” the team to pay him money after Streeter spoke with counsel for the league about the arbitration process.
Streeter—who played for the Chicago Bears in 1989 and the Indianapolis Colts in 1990—was hired by the Raiders in May 2007 to assess and bring in talent, but was fired by then-Coach Lane Kiffin the following January after the team finished the season with a 4-12 record.
Claiming he was hired under an oral contract for a one-year term and owed $50,000—an assertion the Raiders disputed—Streeter contacted the NFL for assistance and spoke with Derrick Crawford, the league’s counsel for policy and litigation/operations.
According to Streeter, Crawford told him to write to Goodell, that it would be an “informal process” and that he did not need an attorney. Streeter said Crawford did not use the word “arbitration,” never informed him that he would be waiving his right to pursue claims in state court if he wrote the letter, and did not mention any NFL guidelines on dispute resolution.
Crawford, however, maintained that he explained the league’s dispute resolution process during the call and that arbitration would be binding. He said he also referred to the NFL’s four-page “Dispute Resolution Procedural Guidelines” and forwarded a copy to Streeter.
Proceeding without an attorney, Streeter wrote to Goodell, asking him to “command” enforcement of Streeter’s oral contract and referring to “the guidelines established by the league.”
Crawford then wrote to Streeter and the Raiders’ general counsel Jeffrey Birren certifying the dispute for arbitration. The letter included a copy of the guidelines and requested a written response, and stated that “[t]he guidelines are not intended to impose undue formality on the process and the parties should inform me if they would like to proceed otherwise.”
After Birren responded, arguing that Streeter was an at-will employee and requesting that the grievance be dismissed, Crawford wrote to both parties stating that “the arbitrator” wanted to schedule a management conference.
Streeter claimed that he then realized for the first time that the procedure to be used was different from what he previously understood, and that Crawford only then explained the process to him for the first time.
He hired Oakland attorney Hunter Pyle, who announced during a subsequent conference call that he did not believe the NFL could exercise jurisdiction over his client’s dispute with the Raiders and objected to arbitration.
Crawford responded with an e-mail that included an excerpt from the “NFL Constitution,” which stated, “The Commissioner shall have full, complete, and final jurisdiction and authority to arbitrate…[a]ny dispute between any player, coach, and/or other employee of any member of the League (or any combination thereof) and any member club or clubs.”
Streeter then filed a complaint in the Alameda Superior Court alleging causes of action against the Raiders for wrongful termination and breach of contract, and against the team and Al Davis, the Raiders’ owner and general manager, for fraud, false representation and negligent misrepresentation.
Petition to Compel
The defendants petitioned to compel arbitration under Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 1281.2, arguing that Streeter had agreed to arbitration before he filed suit “by voluntarily initiating the arbitration process through the Commissioner,” but Streeter countered that he had not agreed and never waived his right to object to arbitration.
The trial court denied the petition, concluding that Streeter’s letter to Goodell did not show an intent to initiate arbitration proceedings or to submit his grievance to binding arbitration. Determining that Streeter’s participation in arbitration proceedings thereafter was “minimal at best,” the judge said that waiver of the right to object to arbitration would be found only when the objecting party had participated “far more extensively” than Streeter had participated.
The Raiders and Davis appealed, but Justice Patricia K. Sepulveda wrote to agree with the trial court’s conclusion.
“Although he referred generally to ‘the guidelines established by the league to protect workers like myself and their families,’ Streeter did not specifically refer to the dispute resolution guidelines or indicate that he had agreed to them, or even read them,” she said.
Sepulveda also explained that Streeter’s failure to object after receiving Crawford’s letter stating that he had received Streeter’s request for arbitration and enclosing a copy of the dispute resolution guidelines did not alter the court’s conclusion, noting that Crawford stated that the guidelines were “not intended to impose undue formality on the process” and that the parties could “proceed otherwise,” and Streeter did not consider them to be binding.
Presiding Justice Ignazio J. Ruvolo and Justice Maria P. Rivera joined Sepulveda in her opinion.
The case is Streeter v. Oakland Raiders, A122994.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company