Leslie Smith finds new home in Bellator MMA

April 16, 2019

Yahoo! Sports reports that former UFC fighter Leslie Smith has signed with Bellator MMA and plans to move to Featherweight.

Smith’s last scheduled fight was to be almost a year to the day in April 2018 when she was to meet Aspen Ladd in Atlantic City.  However, Ladd did not make weight and Smith did not take the fight at a catchweight.  As those following know, it was to be Smith’s last fight on  her contract but Zuffa decided to pay her show and win money and then call it good despite her only promotion loss to Cristiane Cyborg.

Smith and her attorney Lucas Middlebrook believe that were abrupt dismissal from the company was due to her leading Project Spearhead which sought to have a vote of UFC fighters to determine whether they were employees of the company instead of independent contractors.  Smith had made a case with the NLRB and despite initial optimism which was in favor of Smith’s claims, they were denied.

She now gets a new start after what will be over a year away from fighting.

The new situation should be good for Smith and a move to the more competitive Featherweight division should yield her attractive fights.  Julia Budd is the company’s featherweight champion at this time.

 Payout Perspective:

MMA Payout had the opportunity to speak with Smith and Middlebrook a couple months back.  Her return to fighting should help Bellator with any intent of building its women’s division.  She may be a polarizing figure depending on your view of her lobbying for fighters’ rights.  But through this, she has elevated her status as someone willing to speak her mind regardless of the ramifications.  We shall see whether she brings her Project Spearhead lobbying to Bellator.

The Interview: Leslie Smith and Lucas Middlebrook

February 5, 2019

Leslie Smith and Lucas Middlebrook discuss the details of Smith’s NLRB dispute with the UFC and Project Spearhead.

The two will appear at the University of Oregon Law School on Saturday as part of the school’s Sports and Entertainment Law Forum.

For context on Smith’s Declaration discussed in the interview, it is attached to the appeal.  Also for more info on the whole dispute, see here.

NLRB denies Leslie Smith Ap… by on Scribd

Finally, apologies for the dog barking in the middle of the interview.  My bad.

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.

NLRB denies Leslie Smith appeal affirming the claims lacked merit

December 21, 2018

MMA Payout has obtained the NLRB denial letter provided to Leslie Smith’s attorney after their attempted appeal of Smith’s charge that her contract was terminated due to the protected activity of trying to organize athletes.

The letter, dated September 19, 2018, states that Smith’s charge “lacks merit.”  The letter affirms its original decision as it states, “[t]here is significant evidence suggesting that the breakdown in contract negotiations in April 2018 occurred for nondiscriminatory reasons related to her demands.”  The NLRB weighed Smith’s offer to the UFC in which she requested an extension and raise in April 2018 after she learned her opponent for the last fight on her contract did not make weight as evidence that this was more of a contract impasse than a pretext to terminate her contract.  Smith was public with her attempts to sign up fighters for Project Spearhead, an organization which is making the attempt to bring fighters together for better work conditions.  Instead of attempting to negotiate with Smith, the UFC decided to end their contract with her.

Leslie Smith UFC NLRB Dismi… by on Scribd


Smith and her attorney made the salient argument that under the terms of the Bout Agreement, she should still have a fight left on her contract.  Yet, the NLRB did not address this point.  Rather, the fact that they concluded that Smith’s contract ended and was not related to her efforts to organize fighters.

Smith’s Charging Letter seemed promising when she filed it last spring.  An initial determination from the Regional Office determined that Smith’s claims had merit.  However, soon after the ruling, her case was sent to Washington D.C. for review.  In September, her claim was dismissed.  The subsequent appeal was made and the letter essentially closes her case.

At this point, Smith’s recourse would likely be filing an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Leslie Smith NLRB Appeal is denied

December 4, 2018

Leslie Smith’s appeal of the dismissal of her NLRB complaint has been denied.  According to the NLRB web site a denial letter was issued on November 27, 2018.

In May, Smith filed a labor complaint against Zuffa last May citing the company took adverse action against Smith due to her involvement in a protected activity.  As we know, Smith is an ardent supporter of Project Spearhead, a group supporting athlete’s right and the need for an association/union.  The NLRB investigator found merit in her claim and there was an indication in June that the NLRB would file a complaint against Zuffa based on the evidence provided by Smith.  But the case was sent to Washington D.C. for review by the Division of Advice.

After it was turned over to the Washington D.C. office, the NLRB reversed course and in September dismissed Smith’s claim citing that the UFC’s conduct actually benefited Smith.

In light of the dismissal, Smith’s attorney, Lucas Middelbrook, filed an appeal, requesting that the same Investigator that initially was assigned to the matter to reconsider the dismissal.  It also requested the recusal of NLRB’s General Counsel Peter Robb and Deputy General Counsel John W. Kyle.  Middlebrook asserted that Robb and Kyle were directly involved with the decision to dismiss Smith’s case.

The latest news looks as though the NLRB has reviewed the appeal and has upheld the dismissal.

Payout Perspective:

Bad timing for this news as Smith will appear on Samantha Bee’s “Fully Loaded,” talking about her quest for better fighter rights.  It airs Wednesday night.  If there is an appeal of this board decision it will go to the United States Court of Appeals.  This denial is not too surprising based on the decision this past September.  MMA Payout will have more information on this matter.

 

 

Factual misstatements, omissions cited by Smith in dismissal letter as she appeals NLRB decision

October 8, 2018

MMA Junkie reports that Leslie Smith will file an appeal of her dismissal of her NLRB labor complaint.

In a two-page decision dated September 18, 2018, the NLRB cited that after an investigation Smith’s complaint lacks merit.  “[t]here is insufficient evidence to establish that the UFC’s failure to renew her contract in April 2018 was based on any protected activities.”

The letter from Region 4 regional director Dennis P. Walsh notes that the “UFC’s failure to renew a contract and continue to negotiate with Smith” was not clear as to if it was an adverse employment action.  Essentially, the decision did not see evidence that re-signing Smith to a new contract was an adverse employment action.  The UFC’s unwillingness to make a counteroffer to Smith’s contractual demands was not evidence of an adverse employment action.

The decision cites three times that the UFC’s conduct actually benefited Smith.  They cite the UFC allowing Smith to remain in the promotion in 2017 after refusing to accept two fights.  Despite her refusal, her contract was extended twice.  The UFC approved Smith’s request to wear a Project Spearhead mouth guard for her April 21st fight despite the ban on third-party logos due to the Reebok deal.  Finally, the NLRB cites the UFC granting Smith $500 for travel expenses related to her April 21st fight.

Lucas Middlebrook, the attorney for Smith, has filed an appeal to the decision and requested two NLRB officials to be recused from the appeal as well as requesting that the same investigator that originally found merit in Smith case review the appeal. He accuses the UFC of using political ties to have the complaint sent to D.C. for additional review.

Smith argues that there were several factual misstatements in the dismissal letter including the allegation that she would not fight unless the UFC gave her additional money and added two fights to her expiring contract.  She also argues that the Bout Agreement obliges the UFC to reschedule the bout or terminate the existing Bout Agreement.  Since the fight was not rescheduled and the bout agreement was terminated, Smith argues that she should have had one more fight left on her contract. Based on this interpretation, the dismissal letter claims that her contract had ended but that would not be the case.

She also noted omissions in the dismissal letter decision including her No. 9 ranking in the UFC and having won 3 of her past 4 fights with the only loss coming outside of her weight division.  She also indicated that the $500 provided to her for travel was related to per diems unpaid by the UFC which included costs for checked luggage.

Payout Perspective:

This will be an appeal to watch considering the allegations and the belief that politics are involved in this.  Dana White and the UFC are friendly with the current administration.  In fact, UFC Fight Pass will be airing a special about Trump and his ties to MMA.  But, will the NLRB listen to the merits of this appeal and overturn the dismissal?  The most compelling argument for Smith is the bout agreement which requires either a reschedule of the bout or cancellation of the bout.  With a cancellation Smith would have been allowed one more fight on the contract.  If not, there is a possible claim for breach.  MMA Payout will keep you posted.

NLRB dismisses Leslie Smith’s claims against Zuffa

September 26, 2018

MMA Junkie’s Steven Marrocco first reported that former UFC fighter Leslie Smith had her NLRB complaint against Zuffa dismissed last week per Smith’s attorney Lucas Middlebrook.

Per a report from ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, Middelbrook plans to appeal.

Smith filed the charging letter in May of this year based on unfair labor practices against the UFC.

Leslie Smith Charging Letter by on Scribd

In June, the NLRB Investigation on Zuffa determine that the charging letter had merit and would file a complaint against Zuffa in Federal District Court.  The NLRB could have filed an injunction against Zuffa which would have prohibited the company from designating its contracted athletes as independent contractors and make them statutory employees.

Post-decision, NLRB Region 4 where the charging letter was filed, was instructed to send the case to D.C. for review.  Smith’s attorney believed that this was politically motivated.

Payout Perspective:

This is a stunning turn of events for the NLRB to dismiss the matter after there appeared to be merit to Smith’s claims.  MMA Payout has made a FOIA request on the charging to determine if there is any explanation for the dismissal.  The case had been dormant since being sent to D.C. and one can only wonder what went on during this process.

NLRB sends Smith case to D.C. for further review

June 30, 2018

Leslie Smith’s chances with the National Labor Relations Board filing a lawsuit on her behalf against Zuffa may have taken a detour after the Regional board was instructed to send the case to Washington D.C. for review by the Division of Advice.

On Friday, Smith’s attorney, Lucas Middlebrook announced that the NLRB Investigation on Zuffa based on Leslie Smith’s Charging Letter had merit and would file a complaint against Zuffa in Federal District Court.  Under 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act, the NLRB could file an injunction against Zuffa which would likely prohibit the company from designating its contracted athletes as independent contractors and make them statutory employees.

Still, in that scenario, Zuffa would have an opportunity to defend itself in Court and oppose an injunction and file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

But, late Friday night, Middelbrook stated that post-decision, Region 4 had been instructed to send the case to D.C. for review.  He opined that this was a favor done by the Republican-led NLRB to the UFC.  As you recall, Dana White and President Donald Trump are friends.  There is no timetable on how long it would take for the Board of Advice to get through with its review.

According to its web site, the Board of Advice, “provides guidance to the General Counsel and to the Regional Officers with respect to difficult or novel legal issues arising in processing of unfair labor practice charges. It determines whether charges have merit and, if so, what legal theories should be advanced in support.”

Payout Perspective:

Its an unfortunate turn of events for those rooting for Smith and her cause.  What this means is that despite a green light from the regional office, it was recommended to send to D.C. for further review.  So, while an initial determination was made, it seems as though someone thought it needed another set of eyes.  Could this case get buried and not be heard of a while?  Likely.  Middlebrook told MMA Fighting that it was in a “holding pattern” at this point.  This is not good news for those wishing for swift justice which appeared to be the timeline as Smith filed her letter with the NLRB in May and a determination was made one month later.  Now, we could be waiting months to see when a complaint will be filed.  Or if it will be filed.

NLRB to file complaint against Zuffa based on evidence submitted by Leslie Smith

June 29, 2018

Region 4 of the National Labor Relations Board has determined that Leslie Smith’s labor case against the UFC has merit and will be filing a complaint against the UFC unless a settlement is brokered.  The lawsuit will indeed include a request by the NLRB for an injunction.

According to Smith’s attorney, Lucas Middlebrook, the NLRB investigator determined that there was merit to her Charging Letter filed in May which questioned her work status as an independent contractor as opposed to an employee of Zuffa.

Middlebrook told MMA Fighting that he was informed by the NLRB investigator that the complaint will be filed in about a month.  The court, not the administrative law judge, will determine whether an injunction will be granted.

There are three types of injunctions:  a temporary injunction, a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction.  It would appear that the NLRB would seek a temporary injunction which would last until the end of the case in which point they would seek a more permanent form of relief (here, the change of status of UFC athletes from independent contractors to employers.)  Permanent injunctions are just what you think of, a permanent halt to the practice (in this case, labeling UFC athletes as independent contractors).  A temporary injunction could be obtained immediately upon filing of a lawsuit and a request from the moving party.

Payout Perspective:

This is a big win for Smith as the NLRB will likely seek a temporary injunction which will upset the status quo of the company’s independent contract athletes.  If nothing else, the decision to go forward with a Complaint against Zuffa will cast a light on the UFC practice.  It does not mean that the NLRB (and Smith) will prevail at the end, but it does show that the case had merit and the NLRB is willing to devote resources to it.

The Interview: USF Law Student Zachary Tomlin

June 17, 2018

I had the opportunity to speak with University of San Francisco Law School student Zachary Tomlin.  He recently won an award in the annual Sports Lawyers Association student writing competition for a paper he wrote about the NLRB and the UFC.

Tomlin SLA Submission by JASONCRUZ206 on Scribd


During my talk with Zack, we reference an 11 part test applied by the NLRB to determine whether or not workers are employees or independent contractors.

The NLRB 11 Factor Test

  1. Extent of control by the employer
  2. Whether or not the individual is engaged in a distinct occupation or business
  3. Whether the work is usually done under the direction of the employer or by a specialist without supervision
  4. Skill required in the occupation
  5. Whether the employer or individual supplies instrumentalities, tools, and place of work
  6. Length of time for which individual is employed
  7. Method of payment
  8. Whether or not work is part of the regular business of the employer
  9. Whether or not the parties believe they are creating an independent contractor relationship
  10. Whether the principal is or is not in the business
  11. (New:) Whether the evidence tends to show that the individual is, in fact, rendering services as an independent business

Also discussed is the NLRB decision in the case of the Northwestern Football player case.  The board unanimously decided to decline jurisdiction.

The Velox decision is below:

Administrative Law Judges Decision in re Velox Express, Inc. by JASONCRUZ206 on Scribd

I also apologize for the abrupt ending.  I am still working on my editing skills.

Next Page »