The NFL Players Association has confirmed it is the target of a federal investigation into whether union leaders attempted to collude with NFL officials by holding secret meetings to discuss labor talks.
NFLPA official George Atallah said Tuesday the union has been cooperating with the Department of Labor probe, which came to light in a lawsuit filed against the union last week by NFLPA employee Mary Moran. Moran claims she was wrongfully removed from her job as director of human resources and placed on administrative leave with pay on Aug. 3 because of her role as a confidential informant in the investigation.
In court documents filed in District of Columbia Superior Court on Thursday, Moran said she provided investigators evidence that former NFLPA president Troy Vincent and other union members met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, allegedly to provide the league access to confidential union information.
She alleged that NFLPA executive committee member Mark Bruener and Texans player representative Kris Brown also attended the meetings, which she claims were not authorized by or reported to the union. She alleged the meetings were a bid by union members to gain influence with the NFL while providing "owners a toehold in the NFLPA."
Moran also alleges NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith met with a Department of Justice official in a bid to stop the investigation in April, weeks after Smith was elected to the job to succeed Gene Upshaw, who died a year ago. Smith took over in mid-March, weeks after Moran became involved in the investigation.
Atallah, the NFLPA's assistant executive director for external affairs, dismissed the contents of the lawsuit.
"We are confident that the claims are without merit and therefore see no reason to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit," Atallah said.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league has not seen the lawsuit, but noted it's common for Goodell to meet with players and union executives, including Vincent.
"Not surprisingly, commissioner Goodell and other NFL executives had regular contact over many years with Gene Upshaw and other union executives, including Troy Vincent, on a wide range of matters," Aiello said. "These meetings included both active and retired players."
Aiello noted that Goodell has an open-door policy with players. He recently met with members of the Jets and Redskins and told them that players can contact him whenever they want.
Vincent declined comment. A former NFL defensive back, he spent four years as NFLPA president through March 2008. This March, he was one of four finalists in the running to take over as the union's executive director before losing in a vote to Smith.
The lawsuit was first reported by SportsBusiness Journal.
Seeking as much as $4 million in damages, Moran claims she was harassed by union officials and her reputation smeared in retaliation for her role in the investigation.
Moran said she uncovered the information while working with Upshaw.
She accused Vincent of orchestrating a failed coup attempt to unseat Upshaw. She also claims to have evidence that Vincent had been meeting with and corresponding with Goodell without the consent of Upshaw or other union officials.
Vincent has previously denied any allegations that he was behind any coup attempt. In March, The Associated Press read an e-mail sent to Vincent by Upshaw indicating that the former executive director had been grooming Vincent to be his successor. In the e-mail, Upshaw proposed forming a committee with former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to establish a succession plan with Vincent as the top candidate.
Upshaw and Vincent had a falling out in early 2008.
Moran is the daughter of U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia. She was hired by the NFLPA as an office assistant in 1993 and promoted to director of human resources in 2003. Her salary this year is $181,913, plus bonuses and benefits.