NEW YORK (AP) — An attorney for a black NFL coach who sued the league alleging racist hiring practices told a judge on Monday that arbitration was not the right way to resolve the lawsuit in party because NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would be the referee and that would be “unreasonable.”
Attorney Douglas Wigdor said the league was trying to force claims by Brian Flores and two other black coaches “behind closed doors.” None of the coaches were present at the Manhattan federal court hearing.
It was the first hearing in a lawsuit Flores filed in February, when he claimed the league was “riddled with racism” even as the NFL publicly condemns him.
Flores was fired in January as head coach of the Miami Dolphins after leading the team to a 24-25 three-year record with back-to-back winning seasons, the most recent of which, when a record of 9-8 shut them out of the playoffs. He has since been hired as an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
His lawsuit was joined last month by two other coaches, Steve Wilks and Ray Horton.
There are currently six minority head coaches in the NFL, a league where the majority of players are black.
Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, representing the NFL, told Judge Valerie E. Caproni that the league believes all claims in the lawsuit should be referred to arbitration under the terms of the league’s contracts. work.
Wigdor said the league demonstrated “this impermissible referee bias” when the NFL declared the claims in the lawsuit to be without merit after its first filing. He said it wouldn’t be fair for Goodell to arbitrate claims after earning $120 million over the past two years from league teams.
Lynch said she invited the three coaches and their attorneys to meet with league officials to discuss “significant issues” surrounding racial inclusion that the NFL is seeking to address.
“Today they refused to meet with us,” she said.
Wigdor said he declined the league’s invitation to discuss racial issues because there would be no justice of the peace or judge present.
For now, the judge has put the trial on the slow track, setting a timeline extending through August for the submission of written arguments regarding the need for arbitration.
That timeline is likely to be further delayed once Wigdor formally informs the judge that it wishes to seek permission to gather evidence regarding the league’s officiating practices before the issue is resolved.
–Larry Neumeister, Associated Press