Imagine sitting through a job interview knowing full well that the job — for which you are well qualified, has already been given to another candidate, and that the only reason you’re there is to check a box allegedly proving non-discrimination. Former Miami Dolphins’ Head Coach Brian Flores has alleged that is exactly what happened to last week when he was invited to dinner by the New York Giants. Mr. Flores, who is Black, had been alerted to the reality of his situation inadvertently by renowned New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, who had mistakenly texted a congratulatory note to him rather than the White candidate who he knew had already landed the job. In response to this and a well-documented history of racial discrimination, Mr. Flores has filed a class action lawsuit against the National Football League (NFL), the New York Giants, and every other team of the NFC and the AFC under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and other anti-discrimination laws.
The filing of the lawsuit is notable for many reasons.
- The timing of the precipitating event – the text message from Belichick and the corresponding interview all occurred in the last week of January — led to the claim being filed a few days later on the first day of Black History month. While the claim would have garnered national attention under any circumstances, it comes during a period when racial tensions are high and conversations about discrimination, equity, and equality are topping the daily headlines.
- The 58-page Complaint lays out a damning case against the defendants on behalf of Mr. Flores and Black players and coaches through the years, detailing historic racial bans; insider comments on double standards and failures to live up to promises of improvement; inarguable statistics on disparities between black and white hiring; the despicable use of “race-norms” as the standard by which settlement monies for retirees suffering from traumatic brain injuries was determined; and exquisite and painful details of disingenuous actions on the part of NFL owners and management.
- Flores’ personal example is exacerbated by the actions of his former employer, the Miami Dolphins franchise, which fired him and called him difficult to work with after leading the team to its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003. Flores alleges that his termination came after refusing both a directive from the team’s owner to “tank” games and to recruit a prominent quarterback in violation of League tampering rules. The lawsuit describes these actions as reflective of the “angry Black man” trope.
- The presentation of the Complaint represents a modern shift to the way that legal documents are crafted. In addition to scrupulously laying out its points, it also includes supporting documents in the form of color photographs and digital screen shots throughout.
- The case was filed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York and lists claims under the 1866 Civil Rights Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, the New York City Human Rights Law, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. It also points to violations of the league’s own Rooney Rule. It claims that the rule, which was created nearly two decades ago to combat the lack of black head coaches in the NFL and has since been expanded to include other positions, has subsequently been used disingenuously to mask the lack of equality in hiring practices.
In a televised interview given to the CBS Mornings show, Flores acknowledged that his suit alleging racial discrimination against Black coaches may forever risk his career in the league, but that the larger issue is more important. “We filed a lawsuit so that we can create some change. And that’s important to me. I think we’re at a fork in the road right now. We’re either going to keep it the way it is, or we’re going to go in another direction and actually make some real change where we’re actually changing the hearts and minds of those who make decisions to hire head coaches, executives, etc.”