Updated November 12, 2021 - 9:22 pm
Former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, who resigned last month after racist, misogynistic and anti-gay emails surfaced, is suing the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Through a malicious and orchestrated campaign, the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell sought to destroy the career and reputation of Jon Gruden, the former head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders,” the lawsuit filed Thursday in Clark County District Court stated. “Defendants’ treatment of Gruden was a Soviet-style character assassination. There was no warning and no process. Defendants held the emails for months until they were leaked to the national media in the middle of the Raiders’ season in order to cause maximum damage to Gruden.”
A NFL spokesman responded to the lawsuit Friday: “The allegations are entirely meritless and the NFL will vigorously defend against these claims.”
Gruden’s lawyers wrote in the 21-page complaint that he was “forced to resign” and claimed that the NFL first leaked a 2011 email from Gruden to the Wall Street Journal.
“When their initial salvo did not result in Gruden’s firing or resignation, Defendants ratcheted up the pressure by intimating that further documents would become public if Gruden was not fired,” wrote Gruden’s attorney, Adam Hosmer-Henner, of the Las Vegas firm McDonald Carano. “They followed through with this threat by leaking another batch of documents to the New York Times for an October 11, 2021 article. On October 7, 2021, Jon Gruden was the head coach of the Raiders on a 10-year, $100-million contract. By October 11, 2021, he had been forced to resign.”
Reached via text on Friday and asked to comment on the lawsuit, Gruden responded: “Go Raiders.”
‘No explanation or justification’
Raiders owner Mark Davis rehired Gruden — who his father once traded — in 2018, signing him to a reported 10-year, $100 million contract.
After news of the lawsuit broke, Hosmer-Henner released a written statement.
“The complaint alleges that the defendants selectively leaked Gruden’s private correspondence to the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in order to harm Gruden’s reputation and force him out of his job,” the statement read. “There is no explanation or justification for why Gruden’s emails were the only ones made public out of the 650,000 emails collected in the NFL’s investigation of the Washington Football Team or for why the emails were held for months before being released in the middle of the Raiders’ season.”
The complaint alleges intentional interference with contractual relations, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, negligence, negligent hiring, negligent supervision, civil conspiracy, and aiding and abetting.
“Defendants hired and retained several professionals to lead the investigation. Defendants also hired and retained numerous employees and professionals to help conduct the investigation, including Commissioner Goodell, who is employed by the NFL,” the suit stated. “Defendants knew that those employees and agents leading and conducting the investigation would have access to and control over highly confidential personal information… Defendants substantially assisted one another to accomplish the wrongful acts committed against Gruden.”
Gruden resigned Oct. 11, a day after the Raiders lost 20-9 to the Chicago Bears at Allegiant Stadium, and after offensive emails Gruden had sent containing homophobic and misogynistic language were detailed in a New York Times report.
That was in addition to a racial trope he used to describe NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith.
The emails came to light amid a hostile workplace investigation into the Washington Football Team. In one message, Gruden called Goodel a “f—–” and a “clueless anti-football p—-.”
The emails had been sent to friend Bruce Allen, the former president of the Washington Football Team, and others.
Gruden also lamented the league’s hiring of female officials and slammed the league for what he asserts was pressure on the Rams to draft Michael Sam in 2014. Sam had come out as gay before the draft.
In one of the emails, which were sent over a seven-year period ending in 2018, Gruden voiced his opposition to his perception of the league’s influence on Rams coach Jeff Fisher to select a “q—–.”
At the time the emails were sent, Gruden worked as a commentator for ESPN. His lawyer wrote that the NFL had “weaponized a small subset” of the emails collected by the league and “purposefully leveraged these emails to cause the termination of Gruden’s coaching contract.”
The Oakland Raiders first hired Gruden as a head coach in 1998, and he spent 15 years as a head coach throughout the league. In 2003, as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gruden defeated the Raiders in the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers have since pulled Gruden’s name from the team’s Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium.
Since leaving the NFL, Gruden lost the balance of his contract, along with other endorsements, including a shoe contract with Skechers, the lawsuit stated. His image was pulled from the Madden NFL 2022 video game, named after legendary Raiders coach John Madden.
After his resignation, Gruden released a statement saying “I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction… I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”
Contact David Ferrara at dferrara @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter. Raiders reporter Vincent Bonsignore contributed to this story.