Arbitration results not confidential, judge rules in agency's dispute with NFL agent

By Karen Kidd | Dec 25, 2018

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ST. LOUIS — An NFL agent, whose 2014 firing by a Los Angeles-based talent agency and the subsequent arbitration was kept quiet until it leaked out earlier this month, has scored a victory over the agency's bid to make the matter confidential again.

NFL agent Ben Dogra's arbitration confidentiality agreement with Creative Artists Agency Sports, does not mean the results of arbitration can't be made public, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., on the bench in Missouri's Eastern District, ruled late last week. In his five-page memorandum and order issued Dec. 20, Judge Limbaugh said he found "little reason to seal the documents" in the dispute between Dogra and CAA.

"CAA Sports' only argument is that the parties are contractually bound to confidentiality," the memorandum and order said. "Be that as it may, and even if the confidentiality provision, by its terms, applied both to court proceedings and the underlying arbitration, it does not bind this Court—being an agreement solely between the parties."

Judge Limbaugh denied part of CAA's motion to seal and ordered some court documents be unsealed.

The memorandum and order followed a leak earlier this month of details about arbitration between the talent agency and the former head of its football division. Among the details that became public was the arbitrator's finding that CAA was in the wrong under its own employment agreement and the arbitration award of $15 million to Dogra.

Dogra was fired in November 2014. At the time, various reasons were offered but once the matter entered arbitration, CAA claimed Dogra was let go for not overseeing its football division with another employee and for "menacing and profane" emails, according to various news reports.

CAA did nothing to explain why its desire for secrecy in the arbitration process "should outweigh the public's competing interest in free access" to the court's proceedings in the matter, Judge Limbaugh said in his memorandum and order.

"There is, for example, no suggestion that the arbitration award and supporting materials contain personal identifying information, implicate innocent third parties, or contain routinely protected information such as trade secrets or proprietary data," the memorandum and order said. "In fact, CAA Sports cites no law favoring its position—it cites no law at all."

CAA's "primary concern" with keeping arbitration documents under seal appear to be an effort "to avoid media attention" but that concern "is patently insufficient to justify overriding the strong presumption of public access," the memorandum and order said.

On that basis, Judge Limbaugh denied in part of CAA's motion to keep four documents under seal but made reference to other arbitration documents that CAA claims are not relevant to its ongoing attempt to vacate Dogra's arbitration award.

"CAA Sports does not specify what those materials are, but says the parties should be required 'to consult [each other] before placing additional arbitration materials on the public record,'" the memorandum and order said. "In this limited context, the court agrees and will grant CAA Sports' motion. In the event the parties continue to disagree over what materials should properly come before this court, they may move for further relief."

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