Former Miami Dolphins head trainer Kevin O’Neill must let an arbitrator, not a court, decide whether the team defamed him
Former Miami Dolphins head trainer Kevin O’Neill must let an arbitrator, not a court, decide whether the team defamed him and used him was a scapegoat when it fired him in the wake of its 2013 bullying scandal, a Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge has ruled.
Rejecting claims that an NFL-controlled deck will be stacked against the team’s longtime trainer, Circuit Judge Donald Hafele ruled that O’Neill’s contract plainly said that any disputes would be decided by arbitration. If O’Neill didn’t like the contract provision, he should have challenged it, Hafele said in the 15-page ruling released late Friday. Instead, O’Neill signed 10 contracts that mandated arbitration.
“Mr. O’Neill’s repeated execution of 10 separate employment agreements containing the arbitration provision … undermines his assertion that he was not afforded an opportunity to understand what he was signing,” Hafele wrote.
The judge also rejected O’Neill’s claims that arbitration is tantamount to a “kangaroo court” because it will be controlled by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who is paid by league owners. Hafele pointed out that Goodell has designated Jay Moyer to serve in his stead.
O’Neill’s attorney Jack Scarola unsuccessfully argued that Moyer, a former NFL general counsel and executive vice president, will simply do Goodell’s bidding. Scarola, Hafele ruled, presented no evidence to back up those claims.
The trainer and former offensive line coach Jim Turner were fired in the wake of allegations by lineman Jonathan Martin that unrelenting racially charged verbal attacks by fellow lineman Richie Incognito prompted him to leave the Dolphins. In the wake of the scandal that rocked the team and rippled through the league, the team released Incognito.
With pressure about locker room bullying mounting, Goodell ordered an investigation into Martin’s allegations that his complaints were ignored. Attorney Ted Wells, who authored the 144-page report, was particularly critical of O’Neill for not cooperating with the investigation. Scarola claimed O’Neill was bound by patient privacy. But, instead of talking to O’Neill, the Dolphins simply fired him, Scarola said.
Fired weeks after being named the league trainer of the year, O’Neill has been unable to find work even as a high school athletic trainer, Scarola has said. He is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.