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Judge says she won’t change ruling letting NFL coach’s racial discrimination claims proceed to trial
By Larry Neumeister
A federal judge said Tuesday that she’s not changing her decision to let NFL Coach Brian Flores put the league and three of its teams on trial over his claims that he and other Black coaches face discrimination.
Judge Valerie Caproni’s written ruling in Manhattan federal court came after both sides in the case asked her to reconsider her March decision.
The judge ruled then that claims by two coaches who joined the Flores lawsuit after it was filed early last year must proceed to arbitration, where NFL Commission Roger Goodell will presumably serve as arbitrator.
She said Flores can proceed to trial with his claims against the league and three teams: the Denver Broncos, the New York Giants and the Houston Texans.
In February 2022, Flores sued the league and several teams, saying the league was “rife with racism,” particularly in its hiring and promotion of Black coaches.
When she ruled in March, Caproni wrote that 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.”
“Although the clear majority of professional football players are Black, only a tiny percentage of coaches are Black,” she said.
She 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.
In her ruling Tuesday, Caproni rejected an effort by the NFL to argue that a contract Flores signed last year with the Pittsburgh Steelers prevented him from taking any claim to trial because it contained language that would apply retroactively to claims against any NFL team.
She said the copy of the contract that the NFL submitted to her before she ruled in March contained a signature line for Goodell that was blank and the contract was not “valid and binding” unless signed by all parties.
The judge rejected a signed copy that was submitted after her ruling, saying “a motion for reconsideration is not a means to mend holes in the record with neglected evidence.”
Caproni also rejected arguments by lawyers for Flores who claimed that the arbitration agreements between the NFL and some of its coaches are “unconscionable” because Goodell would be a biased arbitrator.
She said the lawyers must wait until the arbitration occurs to decide whether their fears were warranted and whether Goodell “gave them a fair shake to prove their claims.”
She said the lawyers were asking her “to fashion a specific rule out of whole cloth to protect them from potential arbitrator bias that may never manifest itself.”
Last year after filing his lawsuit, Flores said he believed he was risking the coaching career he loves by suing the NFL, but he said it was worth it for generations to come if he could succeed in challenging systemic racism in the league.
In March, the judge noted that Flores had recently been hired as the new defense coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings.
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