Ex-Dolphin trainer, fired in bullying scandal, must seek arbitration in dispute

An appeals court on Thursday ruled that a defamation lawsuit filed against the Miami Dolphins by the team’s former head trainer in the wake of the team’s bullying scandal should be decided by an NFL arbitration panel, not a Palm Beach County circuit judge.

010211 (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post ) FOXBORO, FL ...GILLETTE STADIUM.. New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins...Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne (7) walks off the field with athletic trainer Kevin O'Neill following the Dolphins 38-7 loss to the Patriots. Henne may have suffered a concussion during the game.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne (7) walks off the field with athletic trainer Kevin O’Neill following the Dolphins 38-7 loss to the Patriots in 2011.

Without comment, the 4th District Court of Appeal agreed with a lower court that Kevin O’Neill, who claims he was used as a scapegoat in the 2013 scandal that rocked the sports world, is contractually obligated to let an arbitration panel decide whether his claims are true.

The West Palm Beach-based appeals court upheld a 2015 ruling by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Donald Hafele. He ruled that O’Neill 10 times signed contracts that required that disputes be decided by arbitration.

Hafele also rejected O’Neill’s assertion that he wouldn’t get a fair hearing because the arbitration would be controlled by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The judge noted that Goodell appointed Jay Moyer, a former NFL general counsel and executive vice president, to represent him.

While attorney Jack Scarola, who represents the former trainer, continued to insist that arbitration amounts to a “kangaroo court where the NFL has its thumb on the scales of justice,” he said he accepted the ruling. “The O’Neills and I have beaten worse odds in the past and we intend to do it again,” he said.

O’Neill was sharply criticized in a 144-page report Goodell commissioned after Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin left the team, claiming he was subject to unrelenting racial epithets by fellow lineman Richie Incognito. Report author, attorney Ted Wells, claimed O’Neill refused to cooperate with those investigating Martin’s claims that team officials ignored his pleas to rein in locker room bullies.

Scarola,said O’Neill was bound by patient privacy. Instead of talking to O’Neill, the Dophins fired him along with former offensive line coach Jim Turner, Scarola claimed. Incognito was also released by the team.

O’Neill, who was fired weeks after being named NFL trainer of the year, is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.


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