The Jockeys' Guild, in an answer and counterclaim filed March 24 in United States District Court for the western district of Kentucky, charges Churchill Downs Inc. used "exploitative tactics" in dealing with jockeys at company-owned Churchill Downs and Hoosier Park.
The Guild suit is in response to legal action filed by CDI March 3. The company alleges the Guild violated federal antitrust laws by inciting jockeys to "boycott" the two tracks.
The Guild contends that according to federal law, the labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce. Consequently, labor organizations are permitted to organize for the protection and safety of workers and to engage in concerted action to better their working conditions, the Guild said in a release.
Among the counterclaims are suppression of free speech and association; unreasonable seizure of Guild members, including Shane Sellers; and conspiracy to violate civil rights. The Guild is asking for dismissal of the CDI suit, compensatory damages, and a permanent injunction to prevent CDI from "interfering in any way with the rights" of Guild members to associate with each other and hold discussions.
CDI declined to comment on the Guild's suit.
Sellers was led off the grounds of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., last November in connection with the jockey walkout. Sellers filed, and then withdrew, U.S. Department of Labor action against Churchill. He announced his retirement from riding earlier this year.
The Guild claims CDI is attempting to "achieve economic dominance by preventing jockeys from organizing for their safety in an industry in which every other market force is organized." The Guild claims racetracks are organized through the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, while horse owners and trainers are organized through the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protection Association banner.
"Both have long recognized the Jockeys' Guild as the bargaining representative for jockeys," the Guild said. "The TRA and the Jockeys' Guild have a long history of collective bargaining over on-track accident insurance coverage, the very subject that was at the core of the November 2004 controversy."
CDI officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment on the Guild suit, but they previously said the company believes the 2004 walkouts were orchestrated.
"Churchill and the other racetracks have been engaged in collective bargaining with the Guild for years," Guild president Dr. Wayne Gertmenian said in a release. "Now that the Guild is aggressively attacking some of the overwhelming problems in this industry like the scale of weights and the lack of catastrophic injury coverage, and making strides for the jockeys, Churchill wants to shut us down with this lawsuit. Now that they have dragged us into court, we will fight for the rights of our members."
Gertmenian indicated the fact racing associations around the country have increased or plan to increase the maximum medical benefit for on-track accidents from $100,000 to $1 million is proof the industry recognizes insurance is inadequate.
"Even Churchill recognized the need to increase the coverage," he said. " The courage of the individual jockeys who stood up to Churchill Downs Inc. in Kentucky and Indiana resulted in important achievements for all the jockeys."