The NFL filed a motion in federal court Tuesday to compel arbitration in Brian Flores’ class action lawsuit against the league and several teams, in which he and two other coaches allege racial discrimination in their hiring practices.
The filing was made in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and included drafted contracts for all of the trainers named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit: Flores, Steve Wilks and Ray Horton. The presentation also includes a copy of the NFL constitution and bylaws.
The NFL argued in its filing that the three coaches agreed in their signed contracts to arbitrate any claims against the teams that employed them and that “the arbitration provisions of the NFL Constitution to which Plaintiffs expressly agreed cover claims involving two or more member clubs and claims between any manager and any member club, precisely the case here.
The NFL also argued in its filing that those signed contracts also bind any claims against the league to arbitration and that Supreme Court precedent requires each man to arbitrate his claims individually.
Flores, who filed his lawsuit in February, also alleged Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 for each loss during the 2019 season, his first with the team, to improve his draft position. In its motion filed Tuesday, the NFL stated that this is also not a matter for federal courts to rule on, writing: “Courts are particularly reluctant to interfere in such matters, because the internal standards of professional sports leagues’ They’re not necessarily family members.” to court and obviously require some experience in their application.’ To support that argument, the NFL cited Charles O. Finley & Co. v. Kuhn (1978) and Crouch v. NASCAR (1988) as precedents.
Douglas Wigdor, one of Flores’ attorneys, had argued before a judge in May that arbitration is the wrong way to resolve the lawsuit. Flores’ attorneys also said in a statement issued in April, when the NFL first expressed its intention to file a motion to compel arbitration, that doing so would remove much-needed transparency from the case.
Flores’ attorneys want the case to stay in court for a jury trial, where it would eventually go to discovery and each side could see the relevant documents held by the other.
A federal judge in Manhattan is unlikely to rule on the arbitration issue until late summer at the earliest.
David Gottlieb, an attorney for the coaches, said Wednesday that moving the case to arbitration secrecy was, in effect, “stripping our clients of their rights.”
“Arbitration is privatizing the judiciary,” said Gottlieb. “All we ask is an open and fair process.”
He said attorneys for the coaches will argue that the lawsuit against the league belongs in federal court because the agreements requiring arbitration were signed with the teams and not the league.
Flores alleged discrimination from the Dolphins for his January firing and from the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Houston Texans, teams with whom he interviewed for head coaching jobs but did not hire him. Flores alleged that he received “bogus” interviews from the Broncos and Giants to comply with the Rooney Rule requirement to interview minority coaches. The Texans later joined the lawsuit after Flores alleged the team “retaliated” against him by not signing him because he filed the lawsuit against him.
The Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans were added to the suit in April when Wilks and Horton joined the suit. Wilks alleges the Cardinals “didn’t give him any meaningful opportunity to be successful” and fired him after a season in which Arizona finished 3-13. Horton was passed over for the Titans job in favor of Mike Mularkey in 2016.
Mularkey, who had been the team’s interim head coach for the final nine games of the 2015 season, said in a 2020 podcast that Titans owners told him he would get the job before they completed the interview process, including interviewing two minority candidates.
Flores is currently employed by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach. Wilks is currently employed by the Carolina Panthers as a defensive pass game coordinator and secondary coach. Redacted copies of Flores’ contract with the Steelers and Wilks’ contract with the Panthers were also attached to the NFL filing, as well as Flores’ contract with the New England Patriots, the team he was employed by before being hired by the Dolphins.
Horton is now retired.
Associated Press contributed to this report.