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Law School Case Brief

Brown v. Pro Football - 518 U.S. 231, 116 S. Ct. 2116 (1996)


An organization engaged in collective bargaining can claim a narrow immunity from an antitrust suit, resting upon a "nonstatutory" labor exemption from the antitrust laws. The exemption from federal labor statutes sets forth a national labor policy favoring free and private collective bargaining.


After their collective-bargaining agreement expired, the National Football League (NFL), a group of football clubs, and the NFL Players Association, a labor union, began to negotiate a new contract. The NFL presented a plan that would permit each club to establish a "developmental squad" of substitute players, each of whom would be paid the same $1,000 weekly salary. The union disagreed, insisting that individual squad members should be free to negotiate their own salaries. When negotiations reached an impasse, the NFL unilaterally implemented the plan. A number of squad players brought this antitrust suit, claiming that the employers' agreement to pay them $1,000 per week restrained trade in violation of the Sherman Act. The District Court entered judgment for the players on a jury treble-damages award, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the owners were immune from antitrust liability under the federal labor laws.


Did NFL’s unilateral implementation of developmental squad program after collective bargaining impasse violate the Sherman Act?




The court affirmed the finding of the appellate court, which held that members of the NFL were not in violation of the Sherman Act, where they implemented unilateral changes in players' contracts after the parties had bargained to an impasse. It was held that (1) the nonstatutory labor exemption shields from federal antitrust attack an agreement among several employers bargaining together to implement, after a collective bargaining impasse, the terms of the employers' last best good-faith wage offer; (2) with respect to the application of the nonstatutory labor exemption to multiemployer collective bargaining, there was no basis for distinguishing football players from other organized workers; and (3) in the case at hand, the nonstatutory labor exemption applied to the NFL's unilateral implementation of the developmental squad program.

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