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THOMAS v. NFL PLAYERS ASS'N

July 23, 1996

VALERIE THOMAS, JULIE TAYLOR-BLAND, and RITA E. H. RAYMOND, Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE PLAYERS ASSOCIATION, Defendant.


James Robertson, United States District Judge


The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERTSON

Plaintiffs, all former employees of defendant National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), complain that NFLPA's lay-off and discharge of plaintiffs Valerie Thomas and Rita Raymond and alleged constructive discharge of plaintiff Julie Taylor-Bland were in retaliation for plaintiffs' opposition to discriminatory employment practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq.

 The case was tried by the Court sitting without a jury. At trial, for reasons set forth in the record, Count IV of the complaint, which alleged a discriminatory refusal to comply with an arbitration award, was dismissed, and NFLPA was granted judgment as a matter of law on Count I, which alleged a pattern and practice of discrimination in promotions. Count II of the complaint, which alleges the retaliatory lay-off of Thomas and Raymond, and Count III, which alleges the retaliatory discharge or constructive discharge of each plaintiff, are decided below.

 Facts

 The following facts were established at trial:

 1. Plaintiffs Thomas, Raymond and Bland were all employees of NFLPA in the collective bargaining unit of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) represented by the union's Local 2. Each of the plaintiffs is a black woman. Each was a Local 2 shop steward while at NFLPA. Thomas joined NFLPA as a secretary in July 1983. She was promoted to the position of research analyst in the licensing department in June 1994. Raymond joined NFLPA on a part-time basis in April 1983. She was given full-time work as a receptionist in August 1984 and promoted to legal secretary in 1985. Bland began work in February 1982 as a settlement clerk in the benefits department. She was promoted to secretary to the executive director in May 1985.

 2. Bland filed a grievance with Local 2 in May 1984 alleging race discrimination after she was denied a secretarial position. Thomas filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July 1987 alleging race and sex discrimination in pay and promotions. Sometime in 1987, Rita Raymond complained to Local 2 representatives, at least informally, that she had been denied a position as a temporary secretary.

 3. In 1987 there was a players' strike in the National Football League. The failure of the NFLPA and the NFL to agree upon a continuation of their collective bargaining agreement had the effect of cancelling the players' union dues check-off. Cancellation of the dues check-off drastically reduced the revenues of NFLPA and created a financial crisis within the organization.

 4. The NFLPA board met during the first week of March 1988. At that meeting, George Martin was elected president, and Mike Davis was elected vice-president of the union. Also at that meeting, Gene Upshaw, NFLPA's executive director, proposed a budget designed to cope with NFLPA's decreased revenues. Upshaw's proposal contemplated reducing personnel costs through attrition rather than lay-offs.

 5. Upshaw's budget was rejected. NFLPA's executive committee instead demanded an immediate across the board reduction in personnel costs of ten percent. Upshaw relayed that direction to NFLPA's controller, Bill Garner, but changed the amount of the required reduction to eleven percent.

 6. After a banquet occasioned by the board meeting, a number of people gathered in Martin's hotel room, at Martin's suggestion. In attendance were Martin, executive committee member Bubba Paris and his wife, plaintiff Thomas and her husband, plaintiff Bland and her husband, and Sharon Ravarra, a secretary employed in NFLPA's west coast office. At that meeting, Thomas and others expressed concerns about, among other things, promotional opportunities for blacks and women in the OPEIU collective bargaining unit and unresolved Local 2 grievances.

 7. Martin convened a second meeting with staff sometime after March 10, 1988. In attendance were Martin, Thomas, Bland and her husband, and Cheryl Davis, another bargaining unit employee, and her husband. Again, concerns about opportunities for blacks and women at NFLPA were aired. In response to a question from Martin, someone said that Upshaw was a racist. An organization chart of the NFLPA staff was used to point out the asserted lack of mobility of women and minorities at the union.

 8. Martin, along with Mike Davis, also conducted a series of interviews and telephone calls with staff members in the two weeks that followed the board meeting. These interviews were conducted with assurances of confidentiality, and the interviewees, at least Thomas and Bland, spoke freely. Thomas was interviewed by, and had phone conversations with, both Martin and Davis. The subject matter of her conversations with Martin and Davis was wide ranging, but included discussion of race and sex discrimination at NFLPA in addition to other alleged misconduct. Davis also interviewed Raymond.

 9. On March 18, 1996, Thomas, Raymond and four other employees -- Sharon Ravarra, Linda Harris, Beverly Davis and Robyn King -- were laid off. The decision to make the lay-offs, and the selection of the six employees, was Upshaw's.

 10. Before deciding whom to lay off on March 18, Upshaw spoke with Martin and Davis. Davis told Upshaw, based on his interviews with Thomas and Raymond, that he had "heard some things that he thought were very disturbing." Martin told Upshaw that he had held meetings with staff and that problems with opportunities for promotion were discussed. Upshaw had suspicions that the employees he ultimately decided to lay-off were trying to undercut him but believed he did not have enough evidence.

 11. After being informed of the lay-off that day, Thomas returned to her office to discover two men changing the locks on her office door and shutting down her computer.

 12. Between the March board meeting and April 12, 1988 (but not necessarily before the March 18 lay-offs), the following events occurred: (1) Martin conducted an investigation into allegations of misconduct and mismanagement at NFLPA; (2) Martin asked Upshaw about how Upshaw was handling the issue of minority promotions; (3) Martin told Upshaw that Thomas had called Upshaw a racist, had complained about promotional opportunities for blacks and women in the collective bargaining unit, and had given him a four-page memorandum describing various employee grievances; (4) both Martin and Davis passed along the four-page memorandum to Upshaw; (5) Davis told Upshaw ...


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