MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 9 – NLRB denies Leslie Smith claims against Zuffa

December 26, 2018

The 9th MMA Payout Story of the year is Leslie Smith’s Charging Letter to the National Labor Relations Board in which she claimed that she was discharged by the UFC for her attempt to organize fighters via Project Spearhead.

Smith, a women’s bantamweight, was known for her work with the Professional Fighters Association and then launched Project Spearhead.  She actively recruited current UFC athletes to sign cards which would allow the NLRB to conduct a vote to determine if the fighters could be considered employers of the UFC.

In April 2018, she was scheduled to face Aspen Ladd at UFC Fight Night: Atlantic City.  However, Ladd missed weight and Smith declined to fight at a catchweight.  It was Smith’s last fight on her contract and she sought to see if she could obtain a contract renewal with a monetary raise as well as fighting on the card.  The UFC did not negotiate, paid Smith her show and win purse and terminated her contract.

In May 2018, Smith filed a Charging Letter with the NLRB claiming that she was terminated due to her work with Project Spearhead.  It appeared that there was potential for success as the Regional Office determined that Smith’s claims had merit.  Her case was then moved to the D.C. Office as Smith’s lawyer claimed that this was done as a political favor by the Trump Administration on behalf of Dana White.

In September 2018, the D.C. office dismissed Smith’s claim arguing that there was no evidence which showed she was dismissed due to the protected activity of organizing fighters.  Rather, the NLRB believed it to be more of a contractual dispute that reached an impasse.  Smith appealed the decision arguing that there were several factual misstatements and omissions in the opinion which should overturn the decision.  But the NLRB upheld the decision affirming Smith’s decision lacked merit.

The only recourse at this point would for Smith to file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Payout Perspective:

Smith has gained some publicity this year with her fight as she was featured this fall on an episode of Full Frontal with Amanda Bee.  As many speculate, the NLRB administration decisions are political dependent on the administration in charge.  Smith had viable claims against Zuffa but there was not enough proof according to the NLRB in D.C.  This is disappointing since the regional office had concluded that Smith’s claims had merit.  It would be interesting to see if another appeal is made on her behalf.  At this point, Project Spearhead and the attempt to organize fighters lives with fans, but not with fighters.  We shall see if there is any more movement from Smith or other fighters in 2019.

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