Sports

Flores: Goodell should ensure case avoids forced arbitration

Brian Flores wants NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to make sure his class-action lawsuit against the league and several teams over allegedly racist hiring practices isn't settled behind closed doors.

Flores said Monday if Goodell truly wants to bring the kind of change the NFL's top executive has talked about in the wake of the former Miami Dolphins head coach's unprecedented legal maneuver, then Goodell should make sure the case is adjudicated by a jury of Flores' peers rather than in arbitration.

“I think Commissioner Goodell has the influence to do what’s right,” Flores said during a teleconference with lawmakers to speak in favor of the FAIR Act, which would end forced arbitration. "I don’t think you can create that change in a secret setting, a confidential setting. ... I think he has influence to make sure that (a jury trial) happens.”

Flores, hired as a senior defensive assistant for the Pittsburgh Steelers last month, filed his lawsuit against the NFL, Dolphins, New York Giants and Denver Broncos following his dismissal by Miami. Flores led the Dolphins to consecutive winning seasons before he was fired in January.

Miami requested the case go to an arbitrator last month.

Flores’ lawsuit alleges the league has discriminated against him and other Black coaches for racial reasons, denying them positions as head coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators and quarterbacks coaches, as well as general managers. Flores also claims Miami offered him $100,000 per loss during his first season with the team in 2019 in an effort to receive a top draft pick.

Flores, speaking on a panel that included Democratic Congressmen Hank Johnson of Georgia and Hakeem Jeffries of New York, said he wasn't aware when he signed his contract with Miami in 2019 that the Dolphins could force him into arbitration.

“The last thing you’re thinking about is arbitration clause that, if it all goes wrong ... or if you’re wronged, you’re going to be forced into a setting where really the odds are stacked against you,” Flores said. “That’s not what you’re thinking about.”

Flores isn't sure knowing would have changed his decision anyway.

“Even if I did know, where’s the bargaining power?” Flores said. "What, am I going to say no? There’s an unfairness there. It’s obvious.”

The FAIR Act, which will be considered in Congress this week, would prevent employers from hiding forced arbitration clauses in the fine print of employee paperwork and consumer agreements. Flores believes taking away that option would better protect employees.

Flores added that the NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview outside minority candidates for top positions on the coaching staff and in the front office, is well-intended but flawed.

“If there is going to be real change, whether it’s from a head coach, general manager or even ownership level, there is going to have to be some type of oversight over those hiring practices and firing practices in the NFL,” he said. "That is going to have to come from an outside source. If there’s a solution to that, I think that’s what it is.”

While Flores is taking a stand in hopes of creating more opportunities for minorities in the NFL, he believes forced arbitration is a roadblock to progress in all lines of work.

“With this system in place, how can we believe real justice and real change can occur?” Flores said. “They know it’s a rigged system where they know they truly can’t get justice. ... I know this doesn’t just happen in football, it happens in all industries.”

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