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Judge: Williams Wall can sue NFL over drug testing

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By PFW staff

A Minnesota judge ruled Thursday morning that Vikings DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams can sue the NFL for allegedly violating elements of state drug-testing laws when it suspended the players four games apiece.

But the ruling wasn’t a total victory for the players, known to Vikings fans as the Williams Wall. Hennepin County Judge Gary Larson sided with the NFL on several of the players’ claims for failing drug tests back in 2008.

“Today’s decision, along with the federal court decisions in this case, properly rejected virtually all of the claims asserted against the NFL’s program on performance enhancing drugs," said the NFL in an issued statement. "It further confirmed that the program is operated with integrity and consistent with best scientific practices. We are confident that we will prevail on the remaining two claims.”

The Williamses tested positive for a product called StarCaps, a weight-loss supplement, which contained a substance that was on the NFL’s banned list. The players say they were unaware that StarCaps contained the illegal diuretic called bumetanide and took it, believing it was a safe and legal product as far as the league was concerned.

The suspensions are expected to be addressed in a trial that begins on March 8. The temporary injunction restricting the NFL from disciplining the players that was issued last July remains in effect, although Larsen denied a request to make it permanent.

A key to the ruling was Larsen determining that the NFL did not inform the Williamses within three days that they had failed the drug tests, which is required by the state Drug Testing in the Workplace Act. It also was ruled that the players’ claim in Minnesota was not preempted by national labor laws and the NFL’s collectively bargained anti-doping policies.

But Larsen also ruled that the NFL’s testing the Williamses was not considered an act of retaliation by randomly testing them following a positive result for a banned substance and that they had exhausted their chance to give written explanations for their positive tests. Larsen also shot down the players’ claims that the NFL violated the state Consumable Products Act, which protects workers from being punished for using a legal product, saying the Williamses “used and enjoyed StarCaps while at work.”

As the league fights the Williamses in state court, it also is considering the possibility of sending the StarCaps case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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