Weil Set to Face Off Against Skadden, Proskauer in NHL Labor War
The Am Law Daily
The collective bargaining stalemate between the National Hockey League players and owners worsened Friday, with the league filing a lawsuit and unfair labor practice charge against the players union and the union moving toward dissolving itself.
The Toronto-based National Hockey League Players Association's (NHLPA) 700-plus members were to begin a five-day vote Sunday to determine whether the NHLPA executive board will file a so-called disclaimer of interest that would pave the way for the union's dissolution and the filing of an antitrust against the league, which has locked players out since September.
Like a stout defenseman taking aim at a speedy winger racing toward the net, the NHL sought to head off the NHLPA's maneuver with the lawsuit filed in U.S. district court in Manhattan by its regular lawyers from Proskauer Rose and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom on Friday.
The two Am Law 100 stalwarts have long shared the league's outside legal work, according to our previous reports, with Proskauer currently taking the lead on labor and employment matters and Skadden providing antitrust counsel. The relationships make sense given that the NHLs executive office in New York is populated with alums of both firms.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and league general counsel David Zimmerman once worked at Proskauer, while the NHLs deputy commissioner William Daly is a former Skadden antitrust associate.
Advising the NHL on its current legal battle with the players union are Skadden antitrust practice leader Shepard Goldfein and partners James Keyte and Paul Eckles, along with veteran Proskauer labor partner L. Robert Batterman and labor and employment partner Joseph Baumgarten.
The 43-page civil complaint filed by the NHL late Friday against the NHLPA [PDF], which claims that the unions potential decertification is a ploy, and seeks a court order preemptively declaring that its current lockout of players does not violate federal antitrust laws. NHL ownerswho claim the league's last labor deal, signed in 2005 after a protracted standoff that wiped out an entire season, has them financially hamstrungcould be hit with trebled damages if the players prove successful in their threatened antitrust suit.
The NHL is the third major professional sports league in North American to face the prospect of antitrust litigation. Both the National Football League and National Basketball Association had to contend with similar suits over the past two years after the unions representing their respective players disbanded in order to comply with federal law and press antitrust claims against the leagues. (Click here and here for stories from The Am Law Daily about the lawyers involved in those disputes.)
James Quinnthe Weil, Gotshal & Manges litigation practice cochair who, along with fellow litigation partner Bruce Meyer, helped resolve a months-long stalemate between the NBA and its players in November 2011confirmed to The Am Law Daily via email on Sunday that he and Meyer are representing the NHLPA in the suit filed against the union by the league on Friday.
Quinn and Meyer told The Am Law Daily in September that the firm has previously represented the NHLPA in legal matters in the U.S. Quinn, who advised NHL players during a 10-day strike in 1992, told the CBC last week that he was open to getting more involved in the labor talks and noted that he has known Bettman for 30 years.
In September the NHLPA challenged the legality of the leagues lockout in two Canadian provinces. J. Robert Blair, a Canadian labor expert and name partner at Edmontons Blair Chahley, represented the union in a proceeding before an Alberta labor relations board that in early October denied the unions request that the lockout be deemed illegal.
Peter Gall, a Vancouver-based labor partner and member of the executive committee at leading Canadian firm Heenan Blaikie, represented the NHL in the Alberta proceeding, along with Hugh McPhail of local firm McLennan Ross, according to our previous reports.
Heenan Blaikie labor partners Danny Kaufer, Corrado De Stefano, and Gary Rosen also took the lead for the league before a labor relations board in Quebec considering a similar injunction request. Marcel Aubut, a corporate partner at Heenan Blaikie and a member of the firms executive committee, spent 16 years as a member of the NHLs board of governors thanks to his previous role as president and CEO of the Quebec Nordiques, a franchise that moved to Denver in 1995 after Aubut sold the team. (Aubut currently serves as head of the Canadian Olympic Committee.)
While the Quebec labor board denied the NHLPA's injunction request in September, it declined to dismiss the case and has continued to hold hearings. Leading the unions legal team in Quebec are associate in-house counsel Robert DeGregory and Michael Cohen of Montreals Melancon, Marceau, Grenier & Sciortino.
Two-thirds of the union's members must vote in favor of initiating the dissolution process for it to happen. The NHLPAs general counsel is Donald Zavelo, who was appointed to the role in September 2011, about nine months after the union elected Donald Fehr as its new executive director.
Before taking over the NHLPA, Fehr spent more than 20 years as head of the Major League Baseball Players Association where he was known as a fierce advocate for player interests. Fehr, who retired from the MLBPA in 2009, and his brother Steven Fehr, who serves as special counsel to the union, have served as the NHLPAs lead negotiators throughout the labor talks with the league.
In late November the two sides approached George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, about acting as an impartial arbiter in the ongoing labor dispute. But the mediation efforts stalled and the NHL canceled all games through December 30, including the Winter Classic pitting the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Detroit Red Wings on New Years Day in the University of Michigans football stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The league's suit against the union has been assigned to U.S. district court judge Paul Engelmayer, a former partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr's New York office who was appointed to the bench last year. The American Lawyer named Engelmayer one of its federal judges to watch in October.