Ex-Miami Dolphins coach sues NFL over alleged race bias

  • Suit says league's few Black coaches poorly treated, underpaid
  • Dolphins team fired head coach after two winning seasons

Feb 1 (Reuters) - Recently fired Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit on Tuesday accusing the National Football League and its 32 teams of discriminating against Black candidates for coaching and management jobs.

In a class action complaint in Manhattan federal court, Flores said his firing by the Dolphins last month after back-to-back seasons with winning records was emblematic of the treatment of Black coaches, who comprise a fraction of team staff while 70% of NFL players are Black.

The lawsuit seeks to force the NFL to make a series of changes, incentivize teams to hire Black coaches and general managers, and require teams to explain hiring and termination decisions in writing.

In a statement responding to the suit, the NFL said the claims were without merit. It said the NFL and it clubs were committed to ensuring equitable employment practices.

"Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time," the statement said.

Flores, who won 24 games over three seasons with the Dolphins, said in the lawsuit that the NFL had failed to reckon with a decades-long history of race discrimination.

He said teams have conducted “sham interviews” with Black candidates to satisfy a 2003 NFL policy known as the Rooney Rule requiring that minorities be interviewed for coaching jobs.

Flores said the New York Giants interviewed him for a head coach position last week, but that the team had already decided to hire a white coach, Brian Daboll. The team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When Black coaches are hired, they are paid less than their white counterparts and are more likely to be fired over disagreements with team ownership, Flores claimed.

The lawsuit accuses the NFL and its teams of violating federal and state laws prohibiting workplace race discrimination.

Flores in a statement provided by his lawyers acknowledged that the lawsuit could hurt his chances of landing another coaching job in the NFL.

"My sincere hope is that by standing up against systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come," he said.

In a statement at the time Flores was fired, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said: "After evaluating where we are as an organization and what we need going forward to improve, I determined that key dynamics of our football organization weren't functioning at a level I want it to be and felt that this decision was in the best interest of the Miami Dolphins.

"I believe we have a talented young roster in place and have the opportunity to be much better in 2022. I want to thank Brian for his hard work and wish him nothing but the best in his future."

Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in New York; Editing by Howard Goller

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.