Judge allows Brian Flores to bring discrimination claims against NFL to trial, sends others to arbitration
Brian Flores will get his day in court against the NFL after a federal judge ruled that the former Miami Dolphins coach may bring his discrimination claims to trial Wednesday, according to ESPN.
It was a split ruling for the league, however, as the same judge, Valerie Caproni in Manhattan, ruled that former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and longtime NFL assistant Ray Horton, who joined Flores' suit after it was filed, must take their cases to arbitration.
Caproni also reportedly ruled that Flores be allowed to proceed with his claims against the NFL, New York Giants and Denver Broncos but must argue against the Dolphins in arbitration.
In her written decision, Caproni expressed confusion at how the league could have only one Black head coach, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, at the time of Flores' lawsuit:
Caproni wrote that the descriptions by the coaches of their experiences of racial discrimination in a league with a "long history of systematic discrimination toward Black players, coaches, and managers — are incredibly troubling."
The judge said it was "difficult to understand" how there was only one Black head coach at the time Flores filed his lawsuit in a league of 32 teams with Black players making up about 70% of the rosters.
There are now four Black head coaches in the NFL: Tomlin, Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, DeMeco Ryans of the Houston Texans and Mike McDaniel of the Dolphins. Caproni also reportedly said the case shined "an unflattering spotlight on the employment practices of National Football League" teams.
The NFL previously requested the Black coaches' claims be dismissed or sent to the league's internal arbitration process, in which commissioner Roger Goodell or someone selected by him would be allowed to preside over the case.
Brian Flores' lawyers react to judge's decision on NFL case
In a statement released later Wednesday, Flores' attorney, Douglas Wigdor, lamented Wilks and Horton wouldn't get the same opportunity as Flores and called the NFL's arbitration process "obviously biased":
"We are pleased that Coach Flores' class claims of systematic discrimination against the NFL and several teams will proceed in court and ultimately before a jury of his peers. We are disappointed the court compelled arbitration of any claims before Mr. Goodell as he is obviously biased and unqualified to rule on these matters. We expect him to delegate those matters to a truly neutral arbitrator as a matter of fundamental fairness."
Brian Flores was fired by the Dolphins after last season, claimed interviews with other teams were bogus
Flores, who recently joined the Minnesota Vikings as defensive coordinator, originally filed his lawsuit in February 2022 against the NFL and its three teams, claiming the league's hiring process had discriminated against him after he was fired by the Dolphins and didn't find another head-coaching job that offseason.
The lawsuit claimed that Flores was interviewed by some teams only to satisfy the NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching jobs, calling the league "rife with racism" and invoking the case of Colin Kaepernick.
It cited an alleged text exchange with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick in which the legendary coach mistakenly texted Flores believing him to be current Giants head coach Brian Daboll and congratulating him on a job that Flores had yet to interview for.
Flores also claimed that Broncos brass showed up to his interview looking like they had been drinking heavily the night before and that he was fired by the Dolphins after he refused pressure to tank a season and meet with a certain prominent quarterback. All three teams in the lawsuit have firmly denied Flores' allegations.