November 27, 2022
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Brian Flores discrimination lawsuit: Attorneys for fired Dolphins coach argue NFL arbitration process ‘bias’

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The Brian Flores lawsuit is currently “on ice” as the judge in the southern district of New York decides whether to agree with Flores’ attorneys and have the case in open court or side with the NFL and enter it into arbitration, a source tells CBS Sports.

The judge “could make a decision in the coming weeks, but more likely in the coming months” the source added. In other words the case, filed on Feb. 1, still has a long way to go until its conclusion.

Flores, now a senior defensive assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers readying to face his former Dolphins team on Sunday night, filed the suit shortly after his firing from the Miami Dolphins and subsequent interview with the New York Giants. He alleges he was part of sham interviews to skirt the Rooney Rule and was discriminated against based on his race. Former NFL defensive coordinator Ray Horton and current Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks joined the suit in April, alleging similar discrimination with the Titans and Cardinals, respectively.

In an Oct. 7 motion to the court, the coaches’ attorneys argued against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell overseeing the arbitration process, alleging he’s too biased to serve impartially.

“Defendants are asking Your Honor to be the first Court in the history of United States jurisprudence to find that a clearly biased arbitrator — one who is the chief executive of the defendant and already said the “claims … are without merit” — can preside over statutory employment discrimination claims,” the plaintiffs’ filing states.

In the NFL’s September brief, the league argues that while Goodell is a “direct employee” of the NFL, he can handle the arbitration process without bias just as he did when handing Dolphins owner Stephen Ross his suspension for violations of the integrity of the game.

“Plaintiffs are flatly wrong that he either cannot or will not treat them fairly, and they have not remotely made the required showing,” the league submits. “The NFL has an overriding interest in combating racism, as it has repeatedly affirmed through its statements and actions. … If the Commissioner showed bias against Plaintiffs, it would undermine not only that interest but also the League’s interest in upholding its system of internal dispute resolution.

“Further, the Commissioner and his designees have a long history of rendering decisions at odds with the interests of the NFL’s member clubs, thus rebutting Plaintiffs’ accusations of bias. In fact, here, the Commissioner recently imposed serious sanctions on one defendant club and its owner. Fundamentally, Plaintiffs’ arguments relate at most to a speculative ‘appearance of bias,’ which is insufficient to disqualify an arbitrator.”

Attorneys for Flores, Horton and Wilks replied that nearly all of the examples of Goodell serving as an arbitrator deal with player discipline. They argue this is something much larger.

“Permitting the Commissioners to discipline a player (or a team, as the case may be) for tarnishing the NFL’s image is plainly in the NFL’s best interests — that is why they agreed to the process in the collective bargaining agreement,” the October reply reads. “But such decisions are a far cry from a determination that the NFL as an institution and its member clubs have engaged in longstanding discriminatory conduct towards an entire class of Black coaches and executives.”

A source indicated that arbitration agreements are usually upheld by courts, even if the coaches signed a contract where arbitration wasn’t collectively bargained. If the judge rules this case goes to open court, a motion to dismiss by the league would be expected.

Should it go to arbitration, Goodell or a designee of his would hear any football-related disputes. A third-party arbitration system known as JAMS (Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services) would hear the non-football related disputes.

“There are an unusual number of moving parts,” a source said.





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