On Tuesday, February 1, 2022, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL and multiple NFL teams, including the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos, and the Miami Dolphins, alleging racial discrimination in the hiring process of African American coaches and general managers. Although not directly relevant to his race discrimination claims, Flores also alleged that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered to pay him $100,000.00 per loss for each loss during the 2019 season. Flores’ lawsuit comes just weeks after the Dolphins controversially fired him, despite back-to-back winning seasons as head coach.
In his complaint, Flores cites to what he says is an inadvertent text message he received from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick congratulating Brian Daboll, a white coach, for being selected as the next New York Giants head coach. Flores received this text three days before his scheduled interview for the same position.
Although Flores interviewed for the Giants coaching job with general Manager Joe Schoen, he alleges that this interview—and other past head coaching interviews—was a sham with a pre-determined outcome. Flores asserts that these interviews were designed by the teams to disingenuously show NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the public that they followed league protocol, which requires teams to interview at least two minority candidates who are not team employees for an open head coaching position.
The NFL quickly denied Flores’ allegations, stating in a press release that they are “without merit.” The NFL teams named in Flores’ complaint also issued similar press releases denying his allegations.
Although Flores is the first former NFL head coach to file suit against the league and its teams for racial discrimination in the hiring process, the NFL likely has numerous defenses available—many of which it has relied upon in past cases.
Initially, the NFL will likely move to compel arbitration. The standard NFL contract for coaches and general managers includes a mandatory arbitration clause that the league may rely upon to seek an order compelling arbitration. The NFL may also lean on language in the arbitration clause to argue that Flores waived his right to file a class action. However, this defense may be difficult because Flores’ claims arguably do not arise from his contract with the NFL. His claims arise from discrimination outside his contract.
If the NFL is unable to get this matter into arbitration, it will likely file a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Specifically, the league may argue that Flores fails to allege sufficient facts to show that he suffered disparate treatment because of his race. In other words, the NFL cannot force owners to hire specific minority candidates and the teams had race neutral reasons for hiring their coaches. Flores may be able to overcome a motion to dismiss by pointing to the circumstantial statistics in his complaint showing the lack of black candidates in head coaching and general manager positions.
Finally, if the case is not dismissed, the NFL will oppose Flores’ motion for class certification. The NFL may argue that the class is not sufficiently numerous because they are not enough black coaches and executives working in the NFL who were allegedly denied coaching or general manager positions because of their race. The NFL may also argue that Flores’ individual claims predominate over class-wide issues. Flores filed suit after he did not get the New York Giants head coaching job because he did not believe he got a fair interview. However, each potential candidate’s qualifications for a coaching and general manager position are different. They all have unique backgrounds, experiences, and circumstances—and potentially different damages. Not only is Flores still interviewing for head coaching jobs, but because the proposed class definition includes “all black head coach, coordinator, QB coach, and general manager candidates” during the limitations period, it is possible that several class members went on to become head coaches and arguably suffered no damages at all.
Flores’ lawsuit has already gained significant public attention and will be a case to watch in the weeks and months to come. His allegations will also be a key topic of discussion surrounding the upcoming Super Bowl.