NEW YORK (AP) -Nearly all of the NFL's former drug testing agents filed a federal lawsuit Friday, saying they were fired and effectively blacklisted because of a labor dispute.
The drug testers - most of whom were retired FBI and DEA agents - were replaced en masse this year after the league decided to outsource the job of collecting player urine samples to an independent company, Comprehensive Drug Testing, of Long Beach, Calif.
That drug program overhaul took place amid a campaign by the NFL's then sizable force of testing agents to have themselves declared league employees, rather than independent contractors.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Friday, 93 former drug program agents said the NFL's firings were retaliation for the attempt to clarify their employment status.
The agents also claimed that they were improperly barred from obtaining jobs with Comprehensive Drug Testing because of the labor dispute, and that they were victims of age discrimination. All of the agents were over 40.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail that the league hadn't yet read through the lawsuit, ``but based on our understanding of the former (drug program agents') concerns, we see no merit in them and are confident these claims will be rejected.''
The former drug testers want the courts to force the NFL to pay pension benefits and other employment perks they might have been entitled to if they had properly been classified as league employees. They also asked for an indeterminate amount of damages related to their retaliation and discrimination claims.
``They should be treated fairly. That's what they're looking for,'' said an attorney for the agents, Robert Costello.
Separately, the issue has come before federal tax authorities. In at least one of the cases, the IRS ruled the agents were indeed, NFL employees, a ruling that, if applied widely, could require the league to pay some back taxes associated with their work.
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