NEW YORK — Hopes for a prompt settlement in the 110-day old NHL lockout were scuttled Thursday when players began voting to reauthorize Donald Fehr, the union’s executive director, to disclaim interest in representing the union.
If Fehr disclaims, it would effectively dissolve the union and open the way for players to file antitrust lawsuits against the league. The result of the vote is expected to be announced Saturday.
‘‘The players retain all the legal options they have always had,’’ said Fehr, who did not meet with commissioner Gary Bettman at Thursday’s sessions.
The threat of a disclaimer loomed over five hours of negotiations Wednesday, until a midnight deadline passed, a signal that talks would continue.
The union filed a motion Thursday in US District Court in New York, seeking dismissal of a league filing on Dec. 14 that said any union disclaimer of interest would be unlawful.
‘‘The NHL is using this suit in an attempt to force the players to remain in a union,’’ the memorandum said. ‘‘Not only is it virtually unheard of for an employer to insist on the unionization of its employees, it is also directly contradicted by the rights guaranteed to employees under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.’’
Judge Paul A. Engelmayer scheduled a hearing for Monday.
‘’The Court is mindful of the broader context in which this lawsuit has been filed: ongoing negotiations between the National Hockey League and its players which, if not resolved in short order, may imperil the remainder of the NHL season,’’ Engelmayer wrote.
The two sides brought in a federal mediator, Scot L. Beckenbaugh, this week, raising hopes that a settlement was possible by Jan. 11, which would allow a 48-game schedule to start by Jan. 19.
The sides were expected to reconvene Friday. ‘‘The mediation process continues,’’ said Gary Meagher, an NHL spokesman.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.