Labor & Employment Law Daily Disabled NFL players’ amended class complaint more squarely places blame for reduced disability benefits
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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Disabled NFL players’ amended class complaint more squarely places blame for reduced disability benefits

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The defendants allegedly failed to disclose the substantially negative consequences that plan amendments would have for disabled former players in the future, impeding their ability to mobilize to influence the vote against the 2020 CBA.

The named plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit brought under ERISA and the Labor Management Relations Act against the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and other fiduciaries of the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan (Amended and Restated as of April 1, 2014) and the NFL Player Disability and Neurocognitive Benefit Plan (Amended and Restated as of April 1, 2019), have filed an amended complaint that adds two more counts and more squarely places the blame where it belongs for the diminishment of disability benefits for totally and permanently disabled former NFL players, according to one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The plaintiffs, on behalf of a class a class of totally and permanently disabled former NFL players, allege contract violations of the plans and fiduciary misrepresentations to plan participants, and they seek to cure collective bargaining agreement (CBA) violations. The putative class could include more than 2,000 members.

Failed to disclose loss of disability benefits. The named plaintiffs contend that as a result of the 2020 CBA between the National Football League Management Council and the NFLPA, both as presented to players in proposal form for a vote, and “later secretly modified after approval,” totally and permanently disabled former players will lose substantial vested total and permanent disability benefits (see NFLPA, other fiduciaries, sued over purportedly ‘secret’ disability benefit changes to ratified CBA, July 13, 2020). The NFLPA and other fiduciaries violated the language of both the retirement plan and the disability plan, as well as their fiduciary duties under ERISA, by failing to disclose and inform the plaintiffs and putative class members of the substantially negative consequences that plan amendments would have for them in the future, impeding class members’ ability to mobilize to influence the vote against the 2020 CBA, according to the plaintiffs.

Amendments to the complaint. The significance of the amended complaint in the class action “is that it puts the responsibility for the diminishment of disability benefits squarely on the NFL and the NFLPA, as well as on the benefit boards that administer disability benefits,” Walcheske & Luzi attorney Paul Secunda, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, told Labor and Employment Law Daily in a statement. “It says, essentially, you knew that false statements were being made to current and former NFL players and allowed those misleading statements to persist in order to help with the passage of the 2020 CBA. Because the ratification happened under circumstances in which the voting players did not understand what they were voting on, the entire CBA must now be unwound and a new vote must happen, a remedy that is permitted under labor law when the laboratory conditions of the vote are upset.”

Why is the case so important? Secunda explained the most important aspect of the case: “400 or so former disabled NFL football players literally gave their hearts and minds to the NFL and now when they need the NFL and NFLPA to support them with their disabling conditions, their rights to disability benefits are being bargained away and cut back with devastating consequences. The new CBA offsets social security disability benefits from their NFL disability benefits for the first time and starts the process of reestablishing a disability eligibility process that historically kept deserving players from getting disability.”

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, Cason v. National Football League Players Association, in the District of Columbia; the case is No. 1:20-cv-01875.

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