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Black coach suing NFL can press discrimination claims in court

The National Football League made an unsuccessful bid to keep a lid on the dispute in arbitration.

MANHATTAN (CN) — A federal judge refused Wednesday to let the National Football League avoid a courthouse battle with the Black former head coach of the Miami Dolphins who says the league merely sought to satisfy a diversity recruiting requirement when it subjected him to a sham interview.

“This case shines an unflattering spotlight on the employment practices of National Football League teams,” U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni wrote in a 30-page opinion

Brian Flores, who is Black, brought the suit last year, a few weeks after he sat for two interviews to be head coach of the New York Giants, only to learn that the job had already been given to Brian Daboll, the white former offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills 

Flores, who has since signed on as defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, says he would not even have learned that his interviews had been disingenuous had the coach of the New England Patriots not fumbled a text message.

Bill Belichick apparently had to make an awkward disclosure after mistakenly telling Flores he was getting the job with the Giants. 

“I fucked this up. I double checked & I misread the text,” Belichick wrote, as quoted by Flores in court papers. “I think they are naming Daboll. I’m sorry about that.” 

Pointing to diversity requirement adopted in 2003 and amended in later years, Flores claims his invitation to interview was a hollow one. The Rooney Rule requires every NFL team with open head coach positions to interview at least two external minority candidates.

Flores believes the Rooney Rule was also responsible after he interviewed for a job with the Denver Broncos in 2019 that ultimately went to a white head coach. The Broncos called the charge “blatantly false.”

More recently, Flores added claims against the Houston Texans in an amended complaint, saying the team took him out of the running for the position of head coach while his lawsuit has been pending. 

Judge Caproni ruled that the claims against all three teams, as well as related claims against the NFL, will proceed in court.

The original complaint from Flores outlines a history of segregation and racial inequity, pointing out that just 3% of teams employ a Black head coach even while 70% of NFL players are Black. 

“The owners watch the games from atop NFL stadiums in their luxury boxes, while their majority-Black workforce put their bodies on the line every Sunday, taking vicious hits and suffering debilitating injuries to their bodies and their brains while the NFL and its owners reap billions of dollars,” the complaint states. 

It wasn’t until a $1 billion settlement in 2021 that the league stopped applying race-based criteria to dementia evaluations that made it harder for Black players to qualify for brain injury payouts. 

Steve Wilks and Ray Horton had joined the suit with Flores, but Caproni ruled that they must go through arbitration. 

A representative for the New York Giants declined to comment on the ruling. The team previously said it stood by its head coach hiring decision and insists that Flores had been in the running “until the eleventh hour.” 

The NFL did not immediately return a request for comment, nor did Flores’ attorneys.

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