Former Cleveland Browns’ General Manager George Kokinis has filed for arbitration against the team for his November 2 firing. His claim includes accusations of breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation. Kokinis is seeking more than $4 million in damages and compensation. His claim centers on his belief that the Browns persuaded him into joining the team as G.M. by making the false representation that he would have control over all player personnel matters and report directly to the Browns’ owner. He claims he was wrongly fired because of “his unwillingness to defer on numerous important matters relating to the team’s football operations.”
Kokinis has retained Jeffrey L. Kessler of Dewey & LeBoeuf LLC in NYC. Kessler is a prominent attorney who has litigated numerous sports cases, including McNeil v NFL (the case that created the NFL’s current free agency system). According to Kessler, Kokinis is not looking to make this legal fight public. He is keeping the details of the suit quiet for now. Therefore, details of exactly what Kokinis is alleging are scarce. However, Kessler did mention that if the Browns respond to the arbitration filing by releasing false information relating to his performance as Browns’ GM, his client will respond with his version of the story.
Even though details are sketchy, I have my own theory on the matter. As stated previously, Kokinis will likely argue that he was fraudulently induced into joining the team based on the team’s misrepresentation that he would have final authority on personnel matters and report directly to the owner. He will also argue that, as General Manager, he was required to have final authority over personnel matters per N.F.L. rules. Further, he will argue that his contract was guaranteed for four years and should be honored. Finally, he will also claim that he did nothing wrong to warrant his termination for cause. He has already stated that “[t]he only ’cause’ here is the unwillingness of the team to stand behind the promises that they made to Mr. Kokinis that he would have broad authority over football operations in the face of mounting disagreements over personnel and related issues.”
The Browns will counter by claiming that Kokinis’ dismissal is “for cause.” To dismiss Kokinis “for cause” means that the team had to have a reason to terminate him. Generally, he would have had to do something expressly forbidden in the contract, failed to perform his duties, or committed insubordination in order to be fired. The Browns will argue that Kokinis failed to meet the specific standards of his contract. It is likely that the Browns will try to argue that Kokinis did not defer on personnel and other important matters relating to football operations and that the contract required him to do so. Therefore, the Browns will argue that they were within their rights to dismiss him for cause.
The outcome of the case will center on whether the Browns can come up with some believable argument that Kokinis breached the employment agreement either through insubordination, failing to perform his duties or other conduct forbidden by the agreement. Since I do not have all the facts, it is hard to determine the outcome of the case at this time. However, if what the parties claim is correct and there is no other relevant information, it is hard to see how the Browns will prevail. Kokinis was the General Manager and the Browns had to give him final authority on personnel matters per NFL rules. It has been reported that Kokinis was not involved in the Braylon Edwards trade and was not allowed to make any personnel decisions. Therefore, it is hard to see how the Browns held up their end of the employment contract. Barring any other conduct by Kokinis that would breach the contract, I would put my money on Kokinis winning this case.