Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three of its teams, alleging racial discrimination by the league’s teams in hiring practices.
Flores’ suit comes on the first day of Black History Month and on the heels of the New York Giants’ selection of Brian Daboll over him as head coach.
In documents filed on behalf of Flores in Manhattan federal court, the former coach, who was fired by the Dolphins despite a winning season, contends that his interview with the Giants was nothing more than a move to satisfy the Rooney Rule, which now requires teams to interview at least two external minority candidate for all head coaching vacancies. The Giants also interviewed Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier as well as Patrick Graham, the team’s defensive coordinator who was an internal candidate and would not have counted toward the Rooney Rule requirements.
“God had gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football, but the need for change is bigger than my person goals,” Flores said in a statement. “In making the decision to file the (complaint), I understand that I may be risking coaching the game that I love and that has done so much for my family and me. My sincere hope is that by standing up against system racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come.”
Flores is seeking unspecified economic and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief “to cure Defendants’ discriminatory policies and practices.” Flores is also demanding a jury trial. The Giants, Dolphins and Denver Broncos are also listed as defendants.
In a statement, the NFL said it would defend itself against the claims, which it said were “without merit.”
“The NFL and our clubs are deeply committed to ensuring equitable employment practices and continue to make progress in providing equitable opportunities throughout our organizations,” the league said. “Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time.”
Flores uses text messages allegedly sent by New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick as grounds for his argument that the Giants had no intention of hiring him.
Belichick, whom Flores coached under prior to taking the Miami job three years ago, allegedly texted Flores in advance of his interview telling him that the Giants wanted to hire him. Flores replied that he really wanted the job. But Belichick allegedly apologized, saying that he had made mistakenly texted Flores and that the Giants were hiring Daboll as their next coach, even though Flores had yet to interview. Flores interviewed with the team last Thursday, and the Giants announced Daboll’s hire last Saturday.
“It has been nearly 20 years since the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview diverse candidates for vacant Head Coach, General Manager, Coordinator and other senior positions,” a statement by Flores’ legal team read. “However, as the (complaint) makes clear, the Rooney Rule is not working. As alleged, management does not conduct these interviews in good faith, which creates a stigma that these Black candidates are only interviewed to comply with the Rooney Rule and not because of their qualifications.
“Mr. Flores knows this all too well. Last week, it was widely reported that Mr. Flores, an eminently qualified Black man, was considered the top candidate for the New York Giants’ open Head Coach position, which would have made him the first Black Head Coach in the Giants’ nearly 100-year history.
“Instead, as alleged, the Giants made the decision to hire Brian Daboll — and disclosed that decision to third parties — during a time when the Giants were scheduled to still interview Mr. Flores. Thus, last week, Mr. Flores was forced to sit through an extensive interview process, knowing that the Giants had already selected a white man for the position.”
The Giants said they did not make up their minds before interviewing Flores, whom they contended remained under consideration throughout the process.
“We are pleased and confident with the process that resulted in the hiring of Brian Daboll,” the Giants’ statement said. “We interviewed an impressive and diverse group of candidates. The fact of the matter is, Brian Flores was in the conversation to be our head coach until the eleventh hour. Ultimately, we hired the individual we felt was most qualified to be our next head coach.”
After Flores and former Houston Texans coach David Culley were fired in January, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers stands as the NFL’s lone Black head coach.
“Having discovered what the Giants and the rest of the NFL had hoped to keep in the dark, Mr. Flores now brings this (complaint) to shine a light on the racial injustices that take place inside the NFL and to effectuate real change for the future,” the statement from Flores’ legal team continued.
Flores’ representatives, Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis, added, “On the first day of Black History Month, it is our great privilege to represent Brian Flores in his (complaint) against the NFL. This case seeks to level the playing field in the hope that future owners and coaches will be representative of the athletes who are playing this great game. We fully expect coaches and players of all races to support Brian as he embarks on his journey to create positive change.”
Flores’ filing also alleged that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered to pay him $100,000 per loss to enhance the team’s draft position in 2019. The former Dolphins coach also alleged Ross pressured him to recruit a “prominent quarterback in violation of League tampering rules,” but the lawsuit did not name the player.
“We are aware of the lawsuit through media reports that came out this afternoon,” the Dolphins said in a statement. “We vehemently deny any allegations of racial discrimination and inclusion throughout our organization. The implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect. We will be withholding further comment on the lawsuit at this time.”
Flores went 24-25 in three seasons with the Dolphins. He compiled a 10-6 record in 2020 and went 9-8 this season, missing the playoff both years. Clashes with Dolphins management led to his firing, multiple people familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The people spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.
Flores also interviewed with the Texans, who have not hired a head coach yet.
Contributing: Hal Habib and Joe Schad, Palm Beach Post