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FutureStarrBrian Flores' Discrimination Case Against the NFL Can Move to Court
Wednesday in Manhattan, a judge determined that Flores can proceed with his discrimination case against the NFL to trial. However, she also ordered two other coaches involved in the lawsuit - former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and longtime NFL assistant Ray Horton - to submit their claims to arbitration.
On Wednesday, Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan delivered a split decision regarding the NFL and three teams' requests to move Flores' discrimination case into arbitration. She allowed Flores' claims against the New York Giants, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos to proceed in court as well as continuing her lawsuit against commissioner Roger Goodell who represents club owners.
Caproni wrote in her ruling that the league had attempted to force Flores and two other Black coaches - defensive backs coach Steve Wilks and head coach Ray Horton - into arbitration based on contracts they signed. But she noted that those contracts did not require arbitration and suggested Goodell serving as arbitrator could lead to bias issues.
She noted the league's long history of rendering decisions that did not reflect the interests of its member clubs, pointing out Goodell's recent sanctions against the Miami Dolphins for tampering.
She said the lawsuit "shone an unfavorable light" on the employment practices of N.F.L. teams, noting that only four Black head coaches exist out of 32 in this league.
In February, Flores, Wilks and Horton filed a lawsuit against the NFL and six clubs alleging discrimination during their hiring processes due to race. The 58-page suit detailed discriminatory interview practices at Denver and New York as well as Flores' firing from Miami after two successful seasons last month.
According to reports, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered Flores $100,000 for every loss the team experienced in 2019 and that Ross then pressured him into recruiting a prominent quarterback before the season ended.
It remains uncertain whether the judge's ruling in this case will alter how the league handles discrimination claims from Black coaches. Regardless, it's an encouraging step for Flores and other Black coaches to have their claims pursued in court. In the meantime, courts can keep tabs on things and ensure no further racially discriminatory practices take place within their ranks.
On Wednesday, a judge ruled that former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores can take his discrimination case to court. He sued the NFL, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and New York Giants one year prior, alleging there was "rife with racism" in their hiring practices and promotions of Black coaches.
The judge ruled that some of the claims in the lawsuit must go to arbitration. She focused on specifics about individual contracts and whether they had been properly signed by teams. Furthermore, she held that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell cannot be involved in this process.
Flores, who was fired by the Dolphins after a 24-25 record over three years, can take his case against the NFL to court. But two other coaches who joined his suit must go through arbitration instead, according to ESPN. These include Steve Wilks who was fired by Arizona Cardinals after one year; Ray Horton who was passed over for head coaching job in Tennessee three months earlier; and Flores himself.
Caproni noted that the NFL was a joint employer with its teams and subject to arbitration agreements. She did not address whether Goodell could serve as a witness in these proceedings, an important consideration.
Furthermore, she held that the version of Flores' contract with the Steelers submitted to court last year did not become binding upon either him or the team since its commissioner hadn't signed it. Her opinion cast a critical light on employment practices in the NFL and suggested that there appeared to have been steps taken "to strengthen its policies regarding minorities."
Caproni also agreed that the NFL has the right to request Flores' claims against the Denver Broncos, Houston Oilers and New York Giants be sent to arbitration since those teams did not employ him when he filed his lawsuit. She further ruled that Flores' claims against those teams - which involve interviews and interactions with them - can proceed in court if they relate directly to issues raised when he filed his suit.
On Wednesday, Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan issued a written decision that Flores can proceed with his discrimination case against the NFL and three teams in court. Additionally, two coaches who joined in on the lawsuit - Steve Wilks from Arizona Cardinals and Ray Horton from Tennessee Titans - must submit their claims for arbitration.
In February 2022, the coach filed his lawsuit claiming discrimination by some teams and retaliation by others. He noted the NFL's history of racism - invoking Colin Kaepernick's case as evidence - as well as an unfair hiring process for minority candidates.
He claimed New York and Denver did not conduct real head coaching interviews with him, and when he filed suit, Houston took him out of contention for its vacancy. According to Helton, these teams used sham interviews in order to comply with NFL's Rooney Rule which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching jobs.
Caproni's ruling will enable Flores to pursue his claims against the NFL, Denver Broncos and Houston Texans in federal court. She did rule that former Pittsburgh Steelers coach cannot take his discrimination suit against the league to arbitration before Commissioner Roger Goodell since Goodell did not sign his contract given by the Steelers last year.
Although Flores' case may have seen a victory, the discrimination lawsuit could remain in court for some time to come. Filed in February 2022, it had been sitting idle since then as lawyers representing Flores and the NFL sought to have all of his claims submitted for arbitration.
The judge made some harsh observations about football's racial bias, noting that the lawsuit "cast an unflattering spotlight on NFL employment practices" and that they should be more open in their recruiting and retention practices for minorities. She concluded by noting that this case was "a good first step" that she hoped would bring about positive change for generations to come.
Arbitration is a legal process used by parties to resolve disputes before going to court. It helps avoid the expense and stress of litigation, while providing faster resolution times. Unfortunately, arbitration can be complex, which explains why many people hesitate to use it.
Arbitration is usually the last resort when other options have failed. Some contracts, like real estate or employment agreements, require arbitration before someone can file a lawsuit; other contracts are voluntary and don't necessitate it; however, some people opt for it anyway since they feel it provides faster resolution than going to court.
Arbitration cases can sometimes go to court if an appeal is filed, though this is rare. The appeals process can be costly and both sides lose out if the trial results in a decision that wasn't reached through arbitration.
It can be challenging to determine whether an arbitration decision is fair or not, since the arbitrator doesn't get to hear from either side or examine evidence. That is why it is essential that you prepare your case as if going to trial; do your homework and be ready!
Lawyers and plaintiffs contend that arbitrators have become so influential they have disregarded or bent the law. Some are unqualified to be judges and may cultivate close relationships with companies in an effort to win business.
Flores and two other coaches who have joined his discrimination lawsuit are suing the NFL, Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Houston Texans for racial bias in hiring practices and firing practices. Judge Valerie Caproni ruled Wednesday that Flores can proceed to trial in court but that any claims against teams must be sent to arbitration handled by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Caproni's ruling is a major win for Flores, who had been fighting to keep his discrimination case out of arbitration. It comes as a blow to the NFL which had sought to have Flores and his colleagues' claims sent to arbitration due to their contracts requiring it.