Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ discrimination claims against the NFL and three teams may go to court after a federal judge ruled against arbitration.
Judge Valerie Caproni’s decision paves the way for Flores to hear their claims at trial. The other two coaches who joined the lawsuit must submit to arbitration.
The league had tried to take Flores’ claims to arbitration, citing contracts the coaches had signed.
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Last year, Flores sued the NFL, saying the league was «full of racism,» especially in regards to its coaching hiring and promotion practices.
Caproni wrote that the coaches’ descriptions of their experiences of racial discrimination in a league with a «long history of systematic discrimination toward black players, coaches, and managers are incredibly concerning.»
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The judge also noted that it was «difficult to understand» how there was only one black head coach at the time Flores filed his suit: Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
After the last hiring cycle, there are currently three African-American head coaches: new Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans, while Tomlin and Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles retained their respective positions. There are 32 teams in the NFL and African-Americans make up an overwhelming majority of the rosters, approximately 70%.
The judge said Flores can let a jury decide the merits of his discrimination claims against the league, the Denver Broncos, the New York Giants and the Houston Texans, but must pursue his claims against the Miami Dolphins through arbitration.
«We are pleased that Coach Flores’ collective assertions of systemic discrimination against the NFL and various teams are proceeding in court and ultimately before a jury of his peers,» attorney Douglas Wigdor said in a statement.
It added: «We are disappointed that the court has forced arbitration of any claim on Mr. Goodell, as he is obviously biased and unqualified to rule on these matters. We hope he will delegate such matters to a truly neutral arbitrator as a matter of of basic justice». «
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league was pleased with Caproni’s ruling, which «correctly holds that the vast majority of the claims in this case are properly arbitrable by the Commissioner under binding agreements signed by each claimant.» «.
He said the NFL planned to «proceed quickly with the arbitrations as directed by the Court and seek to dismiss the remaining claims.»
He added: «Diversity and inclusion across the NFL makes us a better organization. We recognize there is more work to be done and we are deeply committed to doing it.»
Flores’ firing came as a surprise because the Dolphins were coming off their second straight winning season in 2021, even though the team missed the playoffs. He finished his three-year career in charge with a 24-25 record.
According to the lawsuit, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told Flores he would pay $100,000 for each loss during the coach’s first season because he wanted the club to «stack up» so he could get the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The suit alleges that Ross then pressured Flores to draft a standout quarterback in violation of the league’s tampering rules, which Flores refused.
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The Dolphins responded to the lawsuit when it was filed saying it vehemently denied any allegations of racial profiling and was «proud of the diversity and inclusion throughout our organization.»
The teams have yet to comment on the latest development.
When he filed the lawsuit, Flores said he knew he was risking his career as a coach he loves, but he hoped to create positive change for generations to come by challenging systemic racism in the league.
Flores spent last season as the Steelers’ defensive assistant and linebackers coach and was recently hired as the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive coordinator.
Caproni ruled that the claims brought by Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, two other coaches who joined the lawsuit, must go to arbitration.
The lawsuit says Wilks was discriminated against by the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 when they hired him as a «bridge coach» but was not given a meaningful opportunity to succeed, while Horton was subjected to discriminatory treatment when given an interview. fake for the Tennessee Titans. head coaching position in January 2016.
In his opinion, Caproni said the case had shed «an unflattering light on the labor practices of National Football League teams.»
In the past, the NFL has settled cases in arbitration, including multimillion-dollar payments to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his former teammate Eric Reid. They filed a complaint against the league saying they essentially refused after kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and social injustice.
In deciding which claims in the lawsuit should go to arbitration rather than be litigated in court, the judge cited details about individual contracts and whether they were properly signed.
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It also ruled that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s potential role as arbitrator did not invalidate arbitration agreements. However, he made it clear that he will retain the authority to review the commissioner’s decision if he is the arbitrator.
Associated Press contributed to this report.