Does Leslie Smith have standing to sue the UFC?

April 25, 2018

Leslie Smith is threatening legal action against the UFC after the end of her contract with the company.  But does she have legal standing to sue?

Smith’s last fight on her contract was to be against Aspen Ladd this past Saturday in Atlantic City.  However, Ladd missed weight and Smith, well within her rights, refused to fight.  The UFC provided Smith with her show and win purse.  The UFC also determined that they would not re-sign Smith.

The UFC does not always give fighters their show money and win bonus in scenarios where a fighter misses weight.  Vitor Belfort’s fight this past January is an example.  Belfort requested pay after being ready to fight Uriah Hall in St. Louis but Hall dropped out during fight week.

But, the UFC’s move to pay Smith and then decide to let her go seems suspect.  Smith has been outspoken about fighters united to come together for better work conditions.  She has touted Project Spearhead, a movement to encourage fighters to determine whether they should be considered employees and been vocal on social media about better rights for athletes.

In an interview with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour, Smith indicated that she is considering legal action against the UFC and has even opened up a GoFundMe to help with legal fees.

Payout Perspective:

I’m interested with this strategy by Smith because it gives the UFC time to devise a strategy to deal with this situation.  But, the first question that must be answered is whether she would have standing to sue the UFC.  While it would be great to get the NLRB acting here, the first hurdle for Smith is whether or not she has standing to sue the UFC.    Also, what are her claims?  The UFC paid her out and decided not to re-sign an independent contractor.  While her grievances may indicate issues with the UFC and how it handles its independent contractors, the issue as to whether or not UFC fighters are employees would be hard to prove for Smith.   Clearly, the UFC’s decision (which seems poor since they could have just paid her and decide at a later date to not re-sign her) to let her go may be due to her outspoken views on fighter rights but the legal connection would be hard to prove.

Smith could sue seeking a declaratory judgment which would not grant her money damages but a court ruling clarifying UFC athlete’s status.  But, then again, the question is whether she has standing to sue.  Since she is now a former UFC fighter, she would be requesting a court to seek the status of a group of contractors she no longer belongs to and that would not work.  There is also the possibility that she sues under theory of a constructive dismissal in which due to work conditions, she was terminated although she was not actually fired.   But, based on the facts of the situation (she was paid and not re-signed), that is hard to prove.

These are only a couple theories out there, but with a GoFundMe, a lawsuit is in the near future.

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