The travails of Alex Rodriguez and his suspension from baseball have been the subject of much news and opinion over the past few months. Now that the baseball season has ended and we are huddled around whatever gives us some degree of warmth during these days of the Hot Stove League, not to mention that pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in about a week, the legal proceedings involving Alex Rodriguez are worth examining not only for their appeal to baseball fans, but also as a way to illustrate basic principles of labor law involving the arbitration process.
With that in mind, it’s no exaggeration to say that at the very least A-Rod faces an uphill battle. In fact, it is more than likely that his legal actions against Major League Baseball, et al. are doomed to fail.
But before examining Rodriguez’ efforts to escape the impact of the arbitrator’s decision affirming his suspension, there is the matter of an action he caused to be filed in October of 2013 against Major League Baseball and the Commissioner before his arbitration proceeding took place. In that proceeding, Alex Rodriguez alleged a number of tort actions claiming that the investigation into his alleged steroid use somehow violated his rights. The case was originally filed in a New York state court and thereafter removed by Major League baseball to federal court.
Without venturing an absolute opinion on this action, one’s gut reaction says that it is likely this case will be dismissed. The rationale is that inasmuch as these claims require interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement they should be preempted by the collective bargaining agreement. In this regard, it is well-settled that Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act provides the jurisdiction necessary to remedy breaches of a collective bargaining agreement. As a result, it is also well established that if claims arising under state law are in reality claims alleging violations of a collective bargaining agreement, such claims are preempted by federal law. In other words, where the alleged rights asserted are rooted in a collective bargaining agreement and resolution of those claims depend upon an analysis of the labor contract, the claims must be treated as one arising under the contract or otherwise dismissed because the collective bargaining agreement affords any available remedies.
It appears at first glance that this first action might be very well preempted.
But regardless of the outcome of A-Rod’s first lawsuit, his second lawsuit is much more problematic for him. On January 11, 2014, the arbitration panel which heard Alex Rodriguez’ grievance released its decision finding that he had used prohibited substances over some length of time and further finding that Major League Baseball had just cause to suspend him for the 2014 season and post-season. Two days later Rodriguez filed another action, this time in federal court against Major League Baseball and against his union, the Major League Baseball Players Association. A copy of the arbitration panel’s decision can be found as an attachment to the complaint in this second proceeding.
The allegations in the second complaint closely mirror the allegations from the first complaint. However, in his second complaint A-Rod also claims that his union breached its duty of fair representation towards him, that Major League Baseball’s suspension is in violation of the collective bargaining agreement and that the arbitration erred in affirming his suspension.
Applying general principles of well-established labor law it appears that things are particularly dicey in terms of Alex Rodriguez’ likelihood of success in his second proceeding.
Cases such as this are commonly known as hybrid Section 301-duty of fair representation actions. In order to prevail, a plaintiff such as A-Rod must show that (1) his union breached its duty of fair representation, (2) his employer breached the collective bargaining agreement and (3) the respective breaches led to an incorrect decision by the arbitration panel. The current state of labor law makes these cases very difficult to win under similar circumstances.
First, Rodriguez must show that his union acted arbitrarily or discriminated against him or acted in bad faith. In light of the history of the union’s efforts on behalf of baseball players, and the efforts undertaken by the MLPA on his behalf, make it a dubious proposition that his union failed to represent him fairly. After all, applicable law is to the effect that a union must be more than merely negligent in representing its members. In fact, before a union can be found to have breached its duty of fair representation it must be shown that the union engaged in some serious. intentional misconduct before it can be held liable for a breach.
Second, and even assuming that Alex Rodriguez can demonstrate that the union breached its duty, he must also prove that Major League Baseball violated the collective bargaining, and its provisions requiring just cause for discipline, before he can prevail. A review of the arbitration decision, with its detailed explanation of the evidence and allegations against him demonstrate that this cause of action is likewise difficult to refute.
Finally, as if all the above were not enough, A-Rod must further show that if there was a breach of the union’s duty towards him, this somehow led the arbitration panel to make an incorrect decision. In light of the deference that federal courts historically have displayed toward arbitration it is simply unlikely that Rodriguez can prevail.