NEW YORK (AP) — NFL coach Brian Flores can sue the league and three teams alleging discrimination after a federal judge on Wednesday denied the option of arbitration, presumably before commissioner Roger Goodell, and made some scathing observations about the status of racial bias in sport.
Judge Valerie Caproni’s written ruling in Manhattan clearing the way for Flores to take her claims to court also forced two other coaches who joined the lawsuit into arbitration. The league had attempted to move Flores’ claims to arbitration, citing contracts the coaches had signed.
Flores sued the league and three teams a year ago, saying the league was “riddled with racism,” particularly in its hiring and promotion of black coaches.
Caproni wrote that the coaches’ descriptions of their experiences of racial discrimination in a league with a “long history of systematic discrimination against black players, coaches and managers – are incredibly troubling”.
Judge said it was ‘difficult to understand’ how there was only one black head coach at the time Flores filed his lawsuit in a 32-team league with black players making up about 70% of the lists.
The judge said Flores could let a jury decide the merits of his claims of discrimination against the league, the Denver Broncos, the New York Giants and the Houston Texans, but that he must pursue his claims against the Miami Dolphins by arbitration.
“We are pleased that Coach Flores’ class claims of systematic discrimination against the NFL and multiple teams will proceed in court and ultimately before a jury of his peers,” attorney Douglas Wigdor said in an email. .
He added: “We are disappointed that the court has imposed arbitration on any claims before Mr. Goodell, as he is manifestly biased and unqualified to adjudicate on these issues. We expect him to delegate these matters to a truly neutral arbitrator out of concern for fundamental fairness.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league is pleased with Caproni’s decision, which “rightly contends that the vast majority of claims in this matter are properly arbitrable by the commissioner under agreements binding agreements signed by each plaintiff”.
He said the NFL plans to “move quickly with arbitrations as directed by the Court and seek to dismiss the remaining claims.”
He added, “Diversity and inclusion in the NFL makes us a better organization. We recognize that there is still work to be done and we are deeply committed to doing it.
Flores filed the lawsuit after being fired from Miami, where he led the Dolphins to a 24-25 record in three years.
According to the lawsuit, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross told Flores he would pay him $100,000 for every loss during the coach’s first season because he wanted the club to ‘book up’. so he can get the first pick in the draft.
The lawsuit alleged that Ross then pressured Flores to sign a top quarterback in violation of league tampering rules. When Flores refused, he was cast as the “angry black man” who is difficult to work with and was derided until he was fired, according to the lawsuit.
The Dolphins responded to the lawsuit when it was filed by saying they vehemently deny any allegations of racial discrimination and are “proud of the diversity and inclusion within our organization.”
Lawyers for the teams did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
When he filed the lawsuit, Flores said he knew he was risking the coaching career he loves, but he hoped to bring positive change for generations to come by challenging systemic racism in the league.
Judge noted that Flores was announced as the Minnesota Vikings’ new defense coordinator earlier this month.
Caproni has ruled that claims filed by Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, two other coaches who joined the lawsuit, must go through arbitration.
The lawsuit said Wilks was discriminated against by the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 when he was hired as a ‘bridge coach’ but had no meaningful chance of succeeding, while Horton was subjected to discriminatory treatment when he received a fake interview for the Tennessee Titans. position of head coach in January 2016.
In his view, Caproni said the case shone “an unflattering spotlight on the employment practices of National Football League teams.”
“Although the vast majority of professional soccer players are black, only a tiny percentage of coaches are black,” she wrote.
In deciding which claims in the lawsuit should go to arbitration rather than go to court, the judge cited details about the individual contracts and whether they were properly signed.
She also ruled that Goodell’s possible role as arbitrator did not invalidate the arbitration agreements. Caproni noted that the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an argument by attorneys for quarterback Tom Brady – in a dispute over deflated footballs and a four-game suspension – that Goodell could not, in law, fairly arbitrate claims regarding the conduct of the league.
Caproni added, however, that leaving Goodell to be the referee created a risk of bias and that it “is concerning” that an NFL statement the day of Flores’ lawsuit said the lawsuit was without merit.
She also noted that she will retain the power to review the commissioner’s decision if he is the referee.