The Business Litigation Blog

A-Rod Appeals Arbitrator's Decision to Suspend Him for Full Season

Alex Rodriguez, without a doubt, has had one of the most storied careers in baseball history. But like many star athletes of his generation, rumors of performance-enhancing drug use have tainted his career. Rodriguez has admitted to using steroids in the past, during his 2000-2003 tenure with the Texas Rangers, but denied any use of PEDs after the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA) banning the use of such drugs came into effect in the latest round of collective bargaining between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA).

In 2013, however, new documents came to light that appeared to contradict Rodriguez’s claims that he had ceased to use PEDs. The Miami New Times published documents from a Florida company called Biogenesis that strongly suggested that several MLB players, including Alex Rodriguez, had obtained significant quantities of PEDs from Biogenesis. MLB quickly filed suit against the owner of Biogenesis, largely to increase their leverage during negotiations to obtain more evidence from Biogenesis, and the owner eventually chose to turn over the documents to MLB in exchange for the dropping of the lawsuit.

Armed with evidence, MLB moved against the players implicated in the Biogenesis documents, suspending them for between 50 and 65 games. It is believed that MLB and Alex Rodriguez did begin some preliminary negotiations on the length of Rodriguez’s suspension as well, but talks broke down, and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig eventually handed down a 211-game suspension, which would effectively suspend Rodriguez for the remainder of the 2013 season as well as the entirety of the 2014 season.  It was not entirely clear where the exact number of games in this suspension came from, as the JDA allowed for a 50 game suspension for a first violation, 100 games for a second, and a lifetime ban for a third, and 211-game suspension seemed a number drawn out of the ether.

Facing the effective end of his career as, at age 38, it would be difficult to return to the highest level of baseball after such a long layoff, Rodriguez, under the provisions of the CBA between the MLB and MLBPA, appealed the suspension to an arbitrator.

Just this past week, the arbitrator made his ruling, reducing the suspension to 162 games, under the logic that the evidence presented by MLB shows three different drug-related offenses by Rodriguez, and since Rodriguez had never been suspended for a drug violation before, were properly punishable by three 50-game suspensions, for a total of 150 games. The arbitrator then added 12 more games to the suspension as punishment for Rodriguez’s attempts to impede the investigation by trying to secure and destroy the documents before MLB could acquire them. In a twist that is almost certainly not coincidental, 162 games, the length of the suspension as modified by the arbitrator, happens to be the exact same length as a full MLB season, meaning that Rodriguez is currently scheduled to miss the entire 2014 MLB season. As missing that great a length of time may very well signal the end of his career, Rodriguez has appealed the arbitrator’s decision to federal court.

In his complaint, Rodriguez argues that the arbitrator made several fundamental errors regarding both his interpretation of the CBA and JDA, as well as evidence presented at the hearing, and that these errors show a clear bias towards the MLB and against Rodriguez. As a final point, Rodriguez notes that the arbitrator had a clear motivation to rule against him, as MLB has the power to terminate the arbitrator’s contract at any time.

In the documentary, Hot Coffee, arbitration systems in which companies that were frequently sued by consumers got to select arbitrators were criticized because arbitrators who ruled for the consumer and against the companies would as a practical matter never be selected again: the companies would blackball them and the ­­­ individual consumer was unlikely to be involved in another arbitration ever. The problem of systemic arbitration bias is a difficult one, and it will be interesting to see whether the court considers that an arbitrator picked by the MLB might not ever rule against the MLB for fear of employment termination.

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