Former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL on February 1 alleging a pattern of discriminatory hiring practices and citing his interview experience with the New York Giants as partial basis for the complaint.
In the lawsuit, Flores alleges that the Giants had already decided to hire Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll as the team’s head coach before conducting a scheduled interview with Flores. The lawsuit claims the Giants organization served as a means to fulfilling the NFL’s Rooney Rule. That rule requires teams conduct racially diverse and inclusive interview processes for the positions of general manager, head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators, and other high-level jobs.
The suit goes on to allege that such discriminatory practices are, and have been, common across the NFL. It accuses the league as a whole of having a longstanding history of discriminatory practices highlighted by hiring and firing methods, as well as several other instances of unequal treatment of Black individuals.
“God has gifted me with a special talent to coach the game of football, but the need for change is bigger than my personal goals,” Flores said Tuesday, February 1, in a statement released by his legal representation, Wigdor LLP and Elefterakis, Elefterakis & Panek. “In making the decision to file the class action complaint today, 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 systemic racism in the NFL, others will join me to ensure that positive change is made for generations to come.”
The Dolphins and the Denver Broncos are named along with the Giants and the league itself as Defendants in the case based on the accusations set forth in Flores’ lawsuit.
Bill Belichick Text Messages Offered as Evidence in Flores Lawsuit
According to the legal complaint, Flores became aware that his scheduled meeting with the Giants might be a “sham” interview through a series of text messages New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick sent him.
Flores came up in the Patriots organization, working as a scout and coaching various defensive position groups between 2004 and 2018 before being hired as the head coach of the Dolphins in 2019. Prior to his interview with the Giants, Flores received a text from Belichick about the job. However, the coach had apparently meant to send that text to Daboll, who spent a total of 10 years working under Belichick in New England.
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A transcript of the messages was included in the complaint, with “BB” representing messages from Belichick to Flores and “BF” representing messages from Flores to Belichick:
BB: Sounds like you have landed — congrats!!
BF: Did you hear something I didn’t hear?
BF: I interview on Thursday.
BF: I think I have a shot at it.
BB: Got it — I hear from Buffalo & NYG that you are their guy. Hope it works out if you want it to!!
BF: That’s definitely what I want! I hope you’re right coach. Thank you.
BF: Coach, are you talking to Brian Flores or Brian Daboll. Just making sure.
BB: Sorry – I f***ed this up. I double checked & I misread the text. I think they are naming Daboll. I’m sorry about that. BB
BF: Thanks Bill.
“The Giants would likely have gotten away with this most insidious form of discrimination if New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick had not mistakenly disclosed it to Mr. Flores,” the complaint alleged.
The Giants responded to the allegations on Tuesday afternoon.
“We are pleased and confident with the process that resulted in the hiring of Brian Daboll,” the team wrote in a statement, per Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network. “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.”
The NFL also responded Tuesday to claims made on behalf of Flores in the lawsuit.
“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 NFL wrote in a statement, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. “Diversity is core to everything we do, and there are few issues on which our clubs and our internal leadership team spend more time. We will defend against these claims, which are without merit.”
Timeline Is Crucial in Establishing Discriminatory Practices on Behalf of Giants in Flores Interview Process
The timeline of events will be crucial to proving the case.
The complaint indicates that the erroneous text messages from Belichick were sent to Flores on January 24. The suit then describes Flores as being “forced” to sit through a dinner with newly hired Giants general manager Joe Schoen — formerly a colleague of Daboll’s with the Bills for the four years — on January 26, despite already knowing Daboll was set to become New York’s next head coach.
On January 27, Flores went through an extensive interview process with the team knowing he would not be hired for the position, according to the complaint. The lawsuit describes the meeting between Flores and the Giants on that day as “an interview that was held for no reason other than for the Giants to demonstrate falsely to the League Commissioner Roger Goodell and the public at large that it was in compliance with the Rooney Rule.”
The following day, on January 28, the Giants publicly announced Daboll as the team’s next head coach.
The Giants also interviewed Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier for their head coaching position on January 22. Frazier is also a former head coach in the NFL and is Black.
That interview took place two days before the lawsuit claims Belichick sent Flores the erroneous text messages, four days before Flores had dinner with Schoen, five days before Flores interviewed for the Giants open job and six days before New York hired Daboll as head coach. Frazier also interviewed with the team a second time on January 28, prior to the Giants officially announcing their hiring of Daboll.
Flores Lawsuit Alleges ‘History of Race Discrimination’ in NFL
The lawsuit alleges a “history of race discrimination” in the NFL. The claim also highlights what it describes as the “NFL’s ongoing problems with race.”
The class action suit cites the situation surrounding former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee as the United States’ national anthem played before several games in 2016. The QB characterized his actions as a peaceful protest against a pattern of police violence directed toward the Black community across the country. His polarizing choice to demonstrate was met with both ardent support and severe backlash from inside and outside the league. As a result, Kaepernick never took another regular season snap in his career.
Flores’ claim goes on to cite examples of racism, homophobia and misogyny linked to the case of former Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, as well as an assertion that the NFL’s concussion settlement discriminated against Black players by “insisting” that “white people simply have better cognitive function than Black people.” That biased determination, the suit alleges, was then used as a basis to offer Black players impacted by concussion problems less financial compensation than their white counterparts.
The lawsuit also noted statistics that show just one of 32 current head coaches in the NFL is Black — Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers — that only six of 32 teams employ a Black general manager, that only four of 32 teams employ a Black offensive coordinator and that only 11 of 32 teams employ a Black defensive coordinator. The scale is disparate, the suit says, as approximately 70% of NFL players are Black.
As part of the claim, Flores is seeking relief from the NFL in the following five ways:
- Increase the influence of Black individuals in hiring and termination decisions for General Manager, Head Coach and Offensive and Defensive Coordinator positions;
- Increase the objectivity of hiring and termination decisions for General Manager, Head Coach and Offensive and Defensive Coordinator positions;
- Increase the number of Black Offensive and Defensive Coordinators;
- Incentivize the hiring and retention of Black General Managers, Head Coaches and Offensive and Defensive Coordinators through monetary, draft and/or other compensation such as additional salary cap space; and
- Complete transparency with respect to pay for all General Managers, Head Coaches and Offensive and Defensive Coordinators.
The suit also notes that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross fired the head coach after just three years in Miami, including the franchise’s first back-to-back winning seasons since 2003.
Flores alleges Ross offered him $100,000 for every loss during the 2019 season, asking him “to ‘tank’ the season to put the team in position to secure the first pick in the draft.” He also alleges Ross tried to get him to violate NFL tampering rules by actively recruiting “a prominent quarterback.”
The lawsuit indicates Flores refused initial overtures by Ross, who he claims then “attempted to ‘set up’ a purportedly impromptu meeting between Mr. Flores and the prominent quarterback” on a yacht in a marina. Flores said he left “immediately” and then was “treated with disdain and held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with,” according to the lawsuit.
The claim also accuses the Broncos of conducting a meaningless interview with Flores to fulfill Rooney Rule requirements back in 2019 before ultimately hiring Vic Fangio, a white man, as the team’s head coach.
Five NFL head coaching jobs remain open, including those with the New Orleans Saints, the Houston Texans, the Minnesota Vikings, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Flores’ former job with the Miami Dolphins, from which he was fired just last month. According to a report from ESPN, only the Texans had requested an interview with Flores as of Sunday, January 30.