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Brian Flores Files Class Action Lawsuit Against NFL Alleging Racial Discrimination

By Douglas Lipsky

Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has filed a lawsuit against the National Football League (NFL), the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos, and the Dolphins, alleging racial discrimination regarding interviews with the Giants and Broncos and his firing by Miami at the end of the regular season. 

Why is Brian Flores Suing the NFL?

The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court on Feb. 1 and seeks class-action status, alleging racial discrimination in hiring practices. Flores claims that the Giants and Broncos conducted “sham” in-person interviews with him solely to comply with the Rooney Rule.

The NFL adopted the rule in 2003 to address the staggering imbalance between the racial makeup of NFL players, nearly 70 percent of whom are Black, and the racial makeup of owners, managers, and coaches. The Rooney Rule requires that teams interview at least one minority candidate for open head coaching and general manager (GM) positions. The rule was named after the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Rooney. Currently, only one head coach of the 32 NFL teams is Black (Mike Tomlin of the Steelers); there are no Black owners.

Flores’ complaint states that the NFL is “managed much like a plantation.” In particular, Flores alleged that the Giants interviewed him on Jan. 27 for their head-coaching vacancy for no other reason but to comply with the Rooney Rule. The lawsuit also alleges that Flores received a series of text messages from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick telling Flores he heard from the Giants and that “you are their guy.” 

The Giants subsequently hired Brian Daboll, who was offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, 

on Jan. 28. The Giants responded to the lawsuit in a statement that read in part, “the allegation that the Giants’ decision had been made prior to Friday evening, January 28, is false.”

In addition, Flores alleges that the Denver Broncos also conducted a sham interview with him for their head coaching job in 2019. Flores was fired by Miami after back-to-back seasons with winning records. Flores claims that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him a “bribe” to tank games during the 2019 season to improve the team’s position in the college draft. 

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages and injunctive relief, requiring the NFL to:

  • Increase the influence of Black individuals in the hiring process
  • Increase the objectivity of hiring/terminating GMs, head coaches, and coordinators
  • Increase the number of Black coordinators
  • Incentivize hiring/retention of Black GMs, head coaches, and coordinators

“The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations,” the league said in a statement.  “We will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”

Why This Matters

Whether the class will be certified and whether the lawsuit has merit remains to be seen; however, Flores’ lawsuit alludes to what may be a pattern of discriminatory conduct by the NFL and team owners. This case also highlights the ongoing problem of racial discrimination at businesses large and small in New York and around the country. If you suspect that you have been discriminated against by an employer because of your race, talk to an experienced employment lawyer today.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.