After an arbitration panel upheld 162 games of a 211-game suspension previously levied by MLB, Alex Rodriguez sued MLB, the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball and MLBPA. In the lawsuit brought in federal court, Rodriguez raises three claims: breach of the duty of fair representation by MLBPA, breach of the collective bargaining agreements by MLB and vacatur of the arbitration award. Overall, Rodriguez seeks the court to overturn the arbitration decision and award whatever other relief is just and equitable.
In the wake of MLB’s investigation into him for alleged illegal performance enhancing substance use, Rodriguez has levied most of his disfavor of the process against MLB. Rodriguez and his legal team have publicly challenged MLB’s suspension of Rodriguez and its subsequent legal maneuvering during the arbitration process. Surprisingly, though, in his lawsuit, Rodriguez takes a bigger swipe at a different entity: MLBPA.
The bulk of the 77-page complaint filed by Rodriguez takes aim at what he alleges to have been the union’s breach of its duty of fair representation during the grievance process. According to Rodriguez, MLBPA refused to act upon his request that it object to MLB’s alleged breaches of the Joint Drug Agreement and Basic Agreement. Additionally, Rodriguez requested MLBPA to intervene in and seek dismissal of MLB’s state court proceeding in Florida against Tony Bosch, the founder of Biogenesis. According to the lawsuit, MLBPA refused to do this. Furthermore, Rodriguez alleges that MLBPA made derogatory public statements about him and points to comments made publicly by former MLBPA executive director, Michael Weiner, in this regard. Due to these issues, Rodriguez sought to select the arbitrator of his choosing to hear his grievance. MLBPA denied him this request and instead selected an arbitrator of its choosing–as is normal procedure–for the three-member panel. In his lawsuit, Rodriguez objects to this.
Under federal law, a labor union–like MLBPA–owes its members certain duties. One of those duties is the duty of fair representation. Under the duty of fair representation, MLBPA is required to represent the interests of all of its members without discrimination. To show that a union acted discriminatorily, more than negligence or ineptitude in its representation of a member must be shown. Rather, the totality of the circumstances must show that MLBPA violated its duty of fair representation by arbitrarily or in bad faith discriminating against Rodriguez in the representation of him throughout the grievance process.
In his lawsuit, Rodriguez raises allegations in an attempt to argue that MLBPA acted discriminatorily in its representation of him throughout the grievance process. Overall, Rodriguez’s argument is that MLBPA did not want to risk its reputation and good favor with MLB and the arbitration panel in fighting Rodriguez’s case. Rodriguez points to alleged incidences of this conduct as behavior which amounted to the requisite discriminatory conduct to be violative of the duty of fair representation.
Given the claims Rodriguez’s lawsuit brings and the goals of the lawsuit, the question becomes, did Rodriguez bring his claims in the right forum? While Rodriguez names as defendants MLB, MLBPA and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a review and understanding of applicable precedent demonstrates that the party against whom he has the strongest claim is MLBPA. This is due to the fact that in labor disputes, courts rarely intervene and/or find in the favor of a plaintiff unless an employer (here, MLB and the Officer of the Commissioner of Baseball) act arbitrarily or capriciously or in disregard of their own rules or the law. Although Rodriguez has asserted that MLB and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball have acted in disregard of the Joint Drug Agreement and Basic Agreement, given the flexibilities present in those documents, his arguments against these parties are arguably his weakest. Negating the argument that MLB and the Officer of the Commissioner of Baseball acted arbitrarily or capriciously is MLB’s allegedly uncovering of significant evidence that Rodriguez allegedly used performance enhancing substances. The evidence MLB allegedly holds and legal precedent make it unlikely that a court will find against MLB and the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball.
That then, leaves the MLBPA. Given the duty of fair representation, it appears that the strongest claims in Rodriguez’s lawsuit are those raised against MLBPA. As such, was a federal lawsuit the best route for Rodriguez to bring these claims? It turns out that another avenue may have presented a more timely disposition of Rodriguez’s claims. That avenue is an unfair labor practice filing alleging that MLBPA breached its duty of fair representation by discriminating against Rodriguez throughout his grievance against MLB.
Due to Rodriguez’s main goal in bringing his lawsuit appearing to be returning to the baseball diamond, time is arguably of the essence when it comes to the resolution of his claims. Given the motions and discovery processes in federal court, it could easily be over a year before Rodriguez’s lawsuit is resolved. An unfair labor practice, however, could see disposition in a more timely manner. The issue with this route, though, is the remedies available to Rodriguez. The filing an unfair labor practice charge against MLBPA would unlikely bring about the result Rodriguez is seeking of having his MLB suspension shorted so that he can return to play this year.
While the legal minutiae is tough to sort through in this case, one thing is certain: The road for Rodriguez back to the baseball diamond is one that will span over a year. Whether serving a suspension or battling in court, this matter is not one that will disappear soon.