Brian Flores’s Discrimination Case Against the N.F.L. Can Move to Court

Brian Flores, who in a lawsuit accused the N.F.L. and its teams of discriminating against him and other coaches of color in their hiring practices, can proceed with his case, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The ruling, by Judge Valerie E. Caproni of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, means that Flores can press his case through the judicial system rather than seeking a resolution in private arbitration, a process that is overseen by N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“This case shines an unflattering spotlight on the employment practices of National Football League teams,” Caproni wrote in a 30-page ruling released on Wednesday. “Although the clear majority of professional football players are Black, only a tiny percentage of coaches are Black.”

Flores, who is Black, filed suit in February 2022 and in April of that year two more Black coaches joined the filing, which they had argued should be certified as a class action. The judge ruled the claims brought by Ray Horton, a longtime assistant coach and defensive coordinator, and Steve Wilks, the Carolina Panthers interim coach last season, were subject to arbitration. The N.F.L. had argued that the claims of all three coaches should be heard in arbitration.

The ruling Wednesday was a significant victory for Flores because his claims against the league and the Giants, Denver Broncos and Houston Texans can proceed in federal court, where testimony and evidence regarding the league’s hiring practices may be made public.

Caproni ruled that a separate part of Flores’s case, against the Miami Dolphins, was governed by his employment agreement with the team and therefore should be heard by an arbitrator. Flores amassed a 24-25 record over three seasons as head coach of the Dolphins before he was fired in 2022.

Doug Wigdor, a lawyer for Flores, said in a statement that he was pleased “that Coach Flores’s class claims of systematic discrimination against the N.F.L. and several teams will proceed in court and ultimately before a jury of his peers.”

The two sides will meet on March 24 in a pretrial conference to come up with a schedule for litigation, including the parameters of evidence discovery.

Brian McCarthy, an N.F.L. spokesman, said in a statement: “We intend to move forward promptly with arbitrations as directed by the court and to seek to dismiss the remaining claims.”

Flores claimed that the head coach searches led by the Giants in 2022 and Broncos in 2019 were “shams” because team executives had already chosen the candidates they would hire — Brian Daboll and Vic Fangio, who was fired in Denver after three seasons — and only spoke to Flores to comply with league rules requiring teams to interview candidates of color.

Flores added the Texans to his lawsuit last April, claiming that the team retaliated against him for filing the lawsuit by not hiring him for their open head coach position last year. The Texans job was filled by Lovie Smith, a Black coach, who had been the team’s defensive coordinator. He was fired after one year, the second consecutive Black coach the team employed for just a single season.

The Giants declined to comment on the judge’s ruling Wednesday, but previously called Flores’s claims “disturbing and simply false.” The Broncos and Texans did not respond to requests for comment.

In February 2022, just 18 days after he filed suit against the league, Flores was hired as a senior defensive assistant to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last month, he was hired as defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings.

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