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Lawyers for Vikings DC Flores, other Black coaches want Roger Goodell role cut in NFL race bias claims

The lawyers said letting Goodell preside over claims by the coaches gives other employers a green light to insert “completely biased arbitrators” into an agreement.
Credit: AP
FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Jan. 9, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

NEW YORK — Lawyers for the Vikings' new defensive coordinator Brian Flores and two other Black coaches asked a judge Tuesday to reconsider her decision to let some of a federal lawsuit's racial discrimination claims against the league and its teams possibly go before Commissioner Roger Goodell in arbitration proceedings rather than before a jury.

In a Manhattan court filing, the lawyers said Judge Valerie E. Caproni should take another look at her March 1 ruling allowing most claims in a lawsuit by Flores to go before a jury but forcing claims by two other coaches into arbitration.

They said the decision threatens the fairness of arbitration proceedings nationwide by upsetting “an extensive and well-developed body of case law requiring that arbitration be a reasonable replacement for a judicial forum.”

The lawyers wrote that letting Goodell preside over claims by the coaches gives other employers a green light to insert “completely biased arbitrators” into arbitration agreements.

They said they now fear that U.S. employers in other professions will seek to appoint their own chief executives or other “clearly biased” individuals as arbitrators. They said it also encourages employers to do away with neutral arbitral selection processes and other aspects of arbitration designed to ensure fairness.

Lawyers for the NFL and Goodell did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Flores, the new defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, sued the NFL and three teams last year, saying the league was “rife with racism,” particularly in its hiring and promotion of Black coaches. Two other coaches, Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, later joined the lawsuit.

In letting most claims by Flores go before a jury rather than to arbitration, Caproni said the case had shined “an unflattering spotlight on the employment practices of National Football League” teams.

“Although the clear majority of professional football players are Black, only a tiny percentage of coaches are Black,” she wrote.

But she also ruled that Goodell’s likely role as the arbitrator did not invalidate the arbitration agreements signed by Wilks and Horton, although she added that his role created a risk of bias and that it was “worrisome” that an NFL statement on the day Flores sued said the lawsuit was without merit.

Caproni noted that if Goodell is the arbitrator, she will retain authority to review his decisions.


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