NFL Players Association ERISA Litigation

Cason, et al. v. National Football League Players Association, et al.

Summary of Lawsuit

 The lawsuit alleges that changes to the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan (“Retirement Plan”) and the NFL Player Disability and Neurocognitive Benefit Plan (“Benefit Plan”) in connection with the 2020 NFL/National Football League Players Association (“NFLPA”) Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) improperly purported to void vested lifetime benefit rights of the participants in both plans in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). The lawsuit further alleges that the plans’ fiduciaries breached their fiduciary duties by failing to disclose to players that the CBA would result in substantial reductions in disability benefits under the Plans and that the NFLPA improperly amended the CBA after it had been ratified in violation of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”).

Summary of Claims

On March 5, 2020, the NFLPA and the National Football League Management Council (the “Management Council”) presented a 456 page proposed CBA to NFL players and gave them 9 days to review the agreement before holding a ratification vote. The proposed CBA included amendments that impacted total and permanent disability (“T&P”) benefits in two ways: a new social security offset and a requirement that players already in paid status to be reevaluated under the “whole person” evaluation process.

Under the social security offset, Inactive A players would see their disability benefits reduced or offset by the amount they received in social security benefits. Originally, the proposed CBA circulated on March 5, 2020, did not apply the social security offset to Inactive A players who began receiving T&P disability benefits prior to January 1, 2015.

On March 15, 2020, after the players had voted to ratify the previously circulated CBA, the Complaint alleges that the Players Association and the Management Council secretly and in violation of both the prior CBA and the LMRA added new language to the proposed CBA, which led to substantial alterations to the amendments.The social security offset was modified to also apply to Inactive A players who began receiving T&P disability benefits prior to January 1, 2015 and the automatic social security approval for T&P disability benefits was removed under the Disability Plan. Additionally, the amendments reinstated the whole person evaluation process for applying for T&P disability benefits. The whole person evaluation requires, not only future players, but also members of the Class to be deemed disabled by “neutral” physicians selected by the Disability Plan. The Complaint alleges that the social security offset and whole person evaluation provisions of the CBA purport to withdraw vested lifetime T&P disability rights and to modify the benefit entitlements of retired players who are already in paid status, in violation of ERISA and the terms of the plan as applied to those players.

Additionally, the Complaint alleges that the Players Association and Management Council sent plan communications before the ratification vote on the 2020 CBA that were misleading to current and former players that omitted material information about the 2020 CBA that negatively impacted members of the Class by influencing players to vote in favor of the amendments and by preventing Plaintiffs and members of the Class from mobilizing other players to vote against the proposed 2020 CBA. The Complaint alleges that these omissions violated the fiduciary duties of the NFLPA and the Management Council in their capacities as fiduciaries of the plans.

Class Action

This lawsuit is brought on behalf of the following persons:

All participants qualified to receive total and permanent disability benefits at the time of the disability amendments to the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFLPA and NFL Management Council, excluding the Defendants or any participant/beneficiary who is a fiduciary of the plan.

And the proposed Class is divided into the following subclasses:

Article 4 Subclass: All participants qualified to receive total and permanent disability benefits at the time of the disability amendments to the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFLPA and NFL Management Council, and who commenced receiving these benefits prior to January 1, 2015. 

Article 3 Subclass: All participants qualified to receive total and permanent disability benefits at the time of the disability amendments to the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFLPA and NFL Management Council, and who commenced receiving these benefits January 1, 2015 or after.

Status of the Litigation

The Complaint was filed on July 10, 2020. Defendants have not yet responded to the Complaint.

Whom to Contact for More Information

If you are a member of the proposed class or you have information which might assist us in the prosecution of these allegations, please contact one of the following persons:

Paul M. Secunda

WALCHESKE & LUZI, LLC

15850 W. Bluemound Rd., Suite 304

Brookfield, Wisconsin 53005

Telephone: (262) 780-1953

Fax: (262) 565-6469

E-Mail: psecunda@walcheskeluzi.com

 

Ray Genco

GENCO LAW FIRM

177 Huntington Ave

Boston, MA 02115

Telephone: (561) 614-4256

Email: ray@gencolaw.com

 

R. Joseph Barton, Esq. (jbarton@blockleviton.com)

Colin M. Downes, Esq. (colin@blockleviton.com)

Ming Siegel, Paralegal (ming@blockleviton.com)

Block & Leviton LLP

1735 20th Street NW

Washington DC 20009

(202) 734-7046

Block & Leviton LLP is co-counsel in this litigation with Genco Law Firm and Walcheske & Luzi, LLC.

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