The 2022 NFL season is seven days away from kickoff. Brian Flores will be on the sidelines, but not as head coach. And his lawyers are still arguing that Roger Goodell—a man paid a reported $40 million by NFL owners to manage the league and make problems go away—can’t be a neutral arbiter in a racial discrimination suit against the league and some of its teams.
Lawyers for Flores, Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, all Black current or former NFL coaches who are suing the league for racial discrimination in how its teams hire head coaches, filed a brief in federal court yesterday slamming the NFL’s demand that the discrimination claims be adjudicated through an arbitration process that would ultimately put Goodell in charge. Flores, the former head coach of the Miami Dolphins who is now a defensive assistant for the Pittsburgh Steelers (whose head coach, Mike Tomlin, is the winningest and most high-profile black coach in the sport), first filed his class-action suit in February. Wilks and Horton joined later.
Yesterday’s filing attacked the process that the NFL has argued should be used to handle Flores’ lawsuit, which it wants resolve outside of a courtroom. Their lawsuit alleges the NFL discriminates against Black coaching candidates by, among other things, maintaining a system of sham interviews under its Rooney Rule, which was designed to require teams to interview at least one nonwhite candidate for every head coaching vacancy.
From the Associated Press
Letting Goodell preside over the case would “deviate from established authority and societal norms” and create a new standard for arbitration that would let it be approved “no matter how biased and unfair the process,” lawyers for the coaches said in their latest submission.
And they added that it would “embolden employers to create manifestly unfair arbitrations with assurance that they will be approved by the courts.”
“If the Court compels arbitration, scores of employers following this case, and those who learn of it, will undoubtedly change their arbitration clauses to permit the appointment of an obviously biased decision-maker,” the lawyers said.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers said letting Goodell preside over the case would be enabling “unconscionably biased one-sided ‘kangaroo courts’”.
On Aug. 4, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni ruled that the plaintiffs’ lawyers wouldn’t be allowed to look for more evidence to submit in support of their attempt to keep the suit out of arbitration. That development was expected to shorten the amount of time it takes for Caproni to make a final ruling on the venue for the lawsuit.
The NFL has argued that the plaintiffs’ employment contracts with their former teams require any lawsuit arising from their jobs to be handled in arbitration.