Professional Hockey Player
The player signed a multi-year contract with an NHL team that provided for a yearly salary and a signing bonus that was payable in several installments over the term of the contract. The club made several installment payments on the signing bonus, including one just weeks before the player abandoned the team and returned to Europe.
The club filed a grievance seeking to recoup all signing bonus monies previously paid to the player, under the theory that the player, by withdrawing his services, did not fulfill the term of his contract. JFA worked closely with NHLPA counsel and argued that under the terms of the contract, the player was entitled to receive bonus payments in certain installments as detailed in the original contract. Since there was no language in the contract that would require the player to repay bonus money already paid, the club was not entitled to recover these funds. Moreover, as a matter of industry practice, the majority of teams include specific disgorgement language in the player’s contract when that is the intent. If the club wanted a similar right in this instance, it had to obtain it in negotiation, not litigation.
The arbitrator agreed and denied the club’s grievance in its entirety. The player thus was allowed to retain all of the bonus money previously paid to him under the terms of the contract.