Judge in NFL coaches' race bias case won't allow 'fishing expedition'

Jun 9, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach Brian Flores (left) and offensive coordinator Matt Canada (right) participate in minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
  • Coaches lose bid to gather more evidence, delay ruling
  • NFL has moved to arbitrate race bias claims

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Manhattan on Thursday denied an attempt by three Black coaches suing the National Football League for race discrimination to gather more evidence before responding to the league's bid to send their claims to arbitration.

U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni said Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coach Brian Flores and the other plaintiffs could not go on a "fishing expedition" because they had not challenged the validity of agreements they signed to arbitrate legal disputes with the NFL rather than suing in court.

Flores in the proposed class action filed in February says the NFL and its teams foster hiring processes that discriminate against Black coaches. The lawsuit claims teams have held sham interviews with Black coaches to appear to comply with a league rule mandating diverse pools of job candidates.

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Flores, who was previously head coach of the Miami Dolphins, was hired by the Steelers a few weeks after filing the lawsuit. Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and league veteran Ray Horton joined the case in April.

The NFL, which has said the lawsuit is meritless, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did lawyers for the coaches.

The NFL moved to compel arbitration of the case in June, citing agreements in the coaches' employment contracts and the league's constitution.

The plaintiffs moved for discovery, seeking documents related to the league's arbitration policies, the arbitrator's relationship with the NFL, and the league's communications with teams.

But Caproni on Thursday said there was no reason to delay a ruling on the league's bid to compel arbitration. The coaches are not disputing that they had signed valid arbitration agreements, so they do not need additional evidence to respond to the NFL's motion, Caproni said.

The case is Flores v. National Football League, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:22-cv-00871.

For the plaintiffs: Douglas Wigdor, Michael Willemin and David Gottlieb of Wigdor; John Elefterakis of Elefterakis Elefterakis & Panek

For the defendants: Loretta Lynch, Lynn Bayard and Brad Karp of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison

Read more:

NFL says Black coaches' discrimination case should be resolved in arbitration

Brian Flores: Suing NFL about 'integrity of the game'

Two more coaches join Flores' discrimination lawsuit against league, teams

NFL expands Rooney Rule to boost diversity

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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.