NFL loses its first battle to strike down Jon Gruden’s lawsuit against the league

The NFL suddenly has a serious legal fight on its hands from ousted Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who won a sizable courtroom battle against the league Wednesday.

A judge denied two key motions filed by NFL attorneys — first ruling against the league’s attempt to force the litigation into private arbitration, then denying a second motion to have Gruden’s lawsuit dismissed entirely. Instead, Nevada 8th Judicial District Court Judge Nancy Allf ruled that the case could continue in open court, which is far more transparent than the sealed arbitration process the league was seeking.

The NFL plans to appeal both rulings.

They were significant wins for Gruden, who is suing for damages in response to what he alleges was an “orchestrated campaign” by the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell to destroy his “career and reputation” through the leaking of racist, homophobic and misogynistic emails between Gruden and former Washington executive Bruce Allen. The emails were sent between 2010 and 2018, prior to Gruden’s hiring by the Raiders.

Those communications were discovered as part of a cache of 650,000 emails collected during the NFL’s workplace investigation into the Washington franchise. The NFL later shared them with the Raiders, before an undetermined leak put them in the hands of the The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. That latter public development caused a firestorm around Gruden, leading to his resignation on Oct. 11. Gruden filed his lawsuit against the NFL and Goodell one month later in Clark County Nevada District Court.

Following that, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy released a statement framing the litigation as “[E]ntirely meritless and the NFL will vigorously defend against these claims.”

A Nevada judge struck down the NFL's motion to dismiss Jon Gruden's lawsuit against the league on Wednesday. (AP Photo/John Locher)
A Nevada judge struck down the NFL's motion to dismiss Jon Gruden's lawsuit against the league on Wednesday. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Allf disagreed with that assessment Wednesday, after studying several hundred pages of briefs from the the NFL and Gruden’s attorneys, then hearing oral arguments for nearly 90 minutes from each side.

The league attempted to argue that Gruden should be compelled to enter into league arbitration despite the emails having been sent prior to him signing a contract to coach the Raiders. Gruden’s legal team countered that his dispute was with the NFL and not the Raiders (with whom Gruden has already reached a monetary settlement as part of his resignation) and that the league office tortiously interfered with his contract with the team by pressuring for his ouster. Gruden’s team also argued that past precedent in Nevada made civil litigation the appropriate venue rather than a private arbitration. Allf ultimately sided with Gruden.

The judge also sided with the coach’s legal team on the assertion that there was enough evidence of league pressure and email chain of custody to continue forward with a case against the NFL, which ultimately led Allf to deny a dismissal of the case. The league had argued in filings that it had a right to cancel Gruden’s contract for detrimental conduct related to the content of the emails.

The next step in the case is likely to be the scheduling of a hearing with the judge to determine a pretrial process, which would include discovery for each party as well as depositions and a general calendar. However, the NFL also has the option of opening settlement talks now that the case is on a track to move forward.