Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores' discrimination lawsuit was cleared to move forward by a federal judge in New York on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan said Flores could advance systemic discrimination claims against the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and New York Giants.
However, the claim against his former employer, the Miami Dolphins, and co-plaintiff claims from Ray Horton and Steve Wilks, are being funneled to arbitration. The ruling puts the matter directly into the hands of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who can elect to serve as arbitrator in the case or opt to appoint one.
Douglas Wigdor, Flores' attorney, summarized the district court ruling as a win and a loss.
"We are pleased that Coach Flores' class claims of systematic discrimination against the NFL and several teams will proceed in court and ultimately before a jury of his peers," Wigdor said in a statement. "We are disappointed the court compelled arbitration of any claims before Mr. Goodell as he is obviously biased and unqualified to rule on these matters. We expect him to delegate those matters to a truly neutral arbitrator as a matter of fundamental fairness."
Flores was 24-25 as head coach of the Dolphins, who fired him in what was later revealed as part of a plan by ownership to lure Sean Payton, then under contract with the New Orleans Saints, to Miami. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was fined, suspended and the Dolphins lost their first-round pick in the 2023 draft as a result.
Flores' lawsuit claims that from owners to general managers and beyond, "systemic racial discrimination in the hiring, retention and termination of NFL coaches and executives" is pervasive in the league.
The NFL said on Wednesday they look forward to moving ahead with arbitration as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.
"We intend to move forward promptly with arbitrations as directed by the Court and to seek to dismiss the remaining claims," the league said in a statement provided by spokesperson Brian McCarthy.
Historically, the NFL goes to great lengths to avoid the discovery phase permitted in a public court system jury trial.
The NFL argued in court that all of the matters should be limited to resolution by arbitration as part of a confidential review and hearings. The matters related to Wilks, and the Arizona Cardinals, and Horton's claim against the Tennessee Titans, along with Flores' dispute with the Dolphins all are covered by the terms of their employment contracts with those teams, Caproni ruled Wednesday.
But Flores can forge ahead seeking a jury trial against the other three teams.
"This case shines an unflattering spotlight on the employment practices of National Football League teams," Caproni wrote in the ruling. "Although the clear majority of professional football players are Black, only a tiny percentage of coaches are Black."
Flores spent last season as senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He interviewed with the Cardinals for their head-coaching vacancy but withdrew to become defensive coordinator of the Vikings in February.
Flores accuses the Broncos and Giants of inviting him for what he considered "sham" interviews. Flores revealed that he received a congratulatory text intended for Brian Daboll from the Giants that was sent by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. But Flores hadn't interviewed with the Giants yet. The team hired Daboll.
He also claims the Texans retaliated against him for filing the lawsuit.
--Field Level Media