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NEW YORK – A lawyer for Brian Flores told a judge on Monday that arbitration is the wrong way to settle a lawsuit alleging racist hiring in the NFL, in part because league commissioner Roger Goodell would be the arbitrator and it would be “unscrupulous.”
Attorney Douglas Wigdor said the league was trying to force “behind closed doors” the claims of Flores and two other black coaches. None of the coaches were present during the court hearing in Manhattan.
It was the first hearing for a Flores case brought in February, when he claimed the league was “filled with racism,” though the NFL publicly condemned it.
Flores was fired in January as head coach of the Miami Dolphins after leading the team to a record 24-25 over three years, with two straight winning seasons – including the 2021 season, where a record of 9-8 left 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 six minority head coaches currently in the NFL, a league where the majority of players are black.
Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who represents the NFL, told referee Valerie E. Caproni that the league believes all claims in the lawsuit should be moved to arbitration under the terms of employment.
Wigdor said the league demonstrated “this unscrupulous skew from the arbitrator” when the NFL said the allegations in the lawsuit were unjustified after it was first filed. He said it would not be fair for Goodell to settle the claims after earning $ 120 million over the last two years from the league’s team.
Lynch said she invited the three coaches and their attorneys to meet with league officials to discuss the “important issues” surrounding racial inclusion that the NFL is seeking to address.
“Today they refused to meet with us,” she said.
Wigdor said he rejected the league’s invitation to discuss race issues because there would be no referee or referee present.
So far, the judge has put the case on the slow track and set a schedule that extends into August for submitting written arguments on whether arbitration is required.
This schedule is likely to be further delayed when Wigdor formally informs the referee that he wishes to seek permission to gather evidence of arbitration practice in the league before the issue is resolved.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.