The NFL asked a federal court to send Brian Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and six of its teams to arbitration on Tuesday, according to Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic.
The league also requested that Flores’s two co-plaintiffs–former Cardinals coach Steve Wilks and former Titans coach Ray Horton–sever their cases and file separate arbitration claims.
The move by the NFL doesn’t come as a surprise as the league had signaled in a letter to the court in April that it hoped to move the lawsuit behind closed doors. The Dolphins had also reportedly requested to move the lawsuit into private arbitration in early March, just over a month after Flores first filed the lawsuit, according to The Athletic.
In the request for arbitration, the league made a new argument in favor of moving the case behind closed doors. Flores stated in the lawsuit that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him a $100,000 bonus for each loss during the team’s 2019 season, a claim that Ross has denied. However, the NFL argued that courts have stayed away from cases that involve how sports organizations internally regulate themselves and that Flores’s allegation of bribery falls into this category.
“Mr. Flores’s claims relate to alleged violations of various internal NFL rules—namely, the Rooney Rule, anti-tampering rules, and rules against intentionally losing games,” the league’s outside lawyers wrote in the motion to compel arbitration. “Courts are particularly hesitant to interfere in such matters, because the internal standards of professional sports leagues ‘are not necessarily familiar to courts and obviously require some expertise in their application.’”
Loretta Lynch, the former U.S. attorney general, is listed as the top attorney for the NFL in the motion.
Flores and his lawyers have tried to prevent the NFL from moving the lawsuit into arbitration, arguing that arbitration would result in a lack of transparency and be antithetical to the league’s stated goals of racial progress.
“With forced arbitration, my case will be litigated behind closed doors, confidentially and without transparency, essentially done in secrecy,” Flores told a panel discussion in March, per The Athletic. “With forced arbitration, there won’t be a jury of my peers who will hear my claims, which is one of the most important and fundamental rights we have in this country.”
Flores was fired as head coach of the Dolphins in January after leading the team to a 24–25 record over three seasons. On Feb. 1, Flores filed a lawsuit against the league, three of its teams–the Giants, Broncos and Dolphins—and 29 “John Doe” teams, accusing the NFL of racial discrimination within its hiring practices.
Wilks and Horton joined the lawsuit last month. Wilks argued in an amended lawsuit that Arizona hired him as a “bridge coach” and that the Cardinals did not have long-term plans for him as the team’s leader.
The Texans, Cardinals and Titans have since been added as defendants in the lawsuit.
Since the filing, Flores has been hired as a senior defensive assistant with the Steelers, but the NFL’s latest filing reveals that commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to sign off on the contract. The league’s standard practice is to review team employment contracts and then have Goodell sign off on them. According to Kaplan, a source close to the NFL said the contract had a minor adjustment shortly before the filing, but nothing that will hold it up.
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