Not sure where you checked your brain at, but his former employer didn't slander him. He isn't employed by the NFL, he is employed by the Saints who play by the in the NFL under the NFL rules. The NFL said "you can't play this year" they have no obligation (much like an employer which was my point) to give him evidence around why they made a decision that he is suspended from playing in the NFL.
But as you pointed out, all of this is covered by the CBA, making it nothing like any other employment situation but rather sui generis
. Moreover, as per the NYTimes Article above:
The union’s argument before the arbitrator Shyam Das centers on whether Commissioner Roger Goodell is allowed to discipline players for actions that were committed before the labor agreement was signed in August.
The N.F.L. interprets that contention as a request for immunity for player behavior and said the union never raised that point about any other discipline matter or when the labor agreement was reached.
The union also will ask that even if Das determines Goodell has the jurisdiction to impose discipline, the appeals should be heard by Ted Cottrell and Art Shell, who oversee on-field conduct appeals. The N.F.L. has been careful to label bounties as conduct detrimental to the league, which, according to the rules, is behavior that only the commissioner can discipline.
In a separate hearing on May 30, the system administrator Stephen Burbank of the University of Pennsylvania will address the union’s contention that the bounties amount to a salary-cap violation, which falls under Burbank’s jurisdiction. The decisions are unlikely to take more than two weeks from the hearing dates.
So whether or not Vilma was properly suspended within the rules of the CBA is quite precisely one of the points being argued in one of the law suits. Also, as Maufman pointed out, the contractual situation is very different for someone who is suspended without pay versus being fired. I'm sure there is contractual language that lets the team off the hook in case of suspension, but as per above, there is a law suit haggling about jurisdiction.
As for defamation of character, it obviously doesn't matter if it's his employer who defamed him or not (if he was defamed). If he did commit the offenses, then the statements made by Goodell referred to in the filing cold easily be construed as detrimental to his professional reputation. It may be true that the league doesn't need to release the evidence it claims it has, but were Vilma to win his suit, the league would look really, really bad, which makes this a pretty shrewd move, IMO.
Edit: It's also worth noting that you can, in some instances, sue an employer for not following it's own procedures. This could become relevant as Vilma's appeal moves forward, especially since the appeals process does have its own discovery process--so apparently, under the CBA, the league will have to offer some sort of reasons for the suspension.
Discovery. In appeals under Section 1(a), the parties shall exchange copies of any exhibits upon which they intend to rely no later than three (3) calendar days prior to the hearing. Failure to timely provide any intended exhibit shall preclude its introduction at the hearing.
Here's the relevant portion of the CBA
for anyone who is interested:
Edited by Reverend, 19 May 2012 - 05:55 PM.