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Brian Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit against NFL and multiple teams can proceed, judge says

Brian Flores' lawsuit against the NFL and three teams can proceed, a federal judge said on Wednesday. Flores looks on before a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Hard Rock Stadium on October 24, 2021. (Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Former Miami Dolphins head coach and current Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL and three teams — the Denver Broncos, the New York Giants and the Houston Texans — can proceed instead of going to arbitration, a federal judge said.

Judge Valerie Caproni issued the decision, allowing Flores to pursue his case against the three teams and the NFL through a court, though his suit against the Miami Dolphins and both Steve Wilks’ and Ray Horton’s cases will go through arbitration.

“This case shines an unflattering spotlight on the employment practices of National Football League (“NFL”) teams. Although the clear majority of professional football players are Black, only a tiny percentage of coaches are Black,” Caproni wrote in her decision.

Flores’ attorney Doug Wigdor said in a statement: “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.”

Last year, Flores, who had recently been fired by the Miami Dolphins after three seasons as head coach, filed a federal civil lawsuit, alleging racial discrimination in the hiring practices for head coaching jobs.

Flores alleged in the suit that Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross offered to pay him to purposely lose games in order to secure a higher pick in the NFL draft and encouraged him to purposely violate league tampering rules.

When he refused, Ross then led a campaign to treat Flores with “disdain and held out as someone who was noncompliant and difficult to work with,” the lawsuit states.

The Dolphins didn’t immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment, though when Flores initiated his lawsuit just over a year ago the NFL team said: “We vehemently deny any allegations of racial discrimination and are proud of the diversity and inclusion throughout our organization.”

“The implication that we acted in a manner inconsistent with the integrity of the game is incorrect.”

Flores also accused the Giants and Broncos of carrying out sham interviews in order to comply with the “Rooney Rule,” which requires teams to interview at least two minority candidates for open head coaching jobs.

Last month he was hired by the Minnesota Vikings as a defensive coordinator after spending last season as senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, which was noted by the Judge Caproni.

In her ruling, she also noted the league’s “long history of systematic discrimination toward Black players, coaches, and managers — are incredibly troubling.”

“Given the number of Black men who play and coach football, it is difficult to understand how it could be that, at the time Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit, ‘the NFL had only one Black Head Coach.'”

The Giants declined to comment, while CNN Sport has reached out to the Broncos and Texans for comment.

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said in a statement to CNN: “Diversity and inclusion throughout the NFL make us a better organization. We recognize there is more work to be done and we are deeply committed to doing it.

“That said, we are pleased with the court’s decision, which correctly holds that the vast majority of claims in this case are properly arbitrable by the Commissioner under binding agreements signed by each plaintiff.

“We intend to move forward promptly with arbitrations as directed by the court and will seek to dismiss the remaining claims.”

A pretrial conference is set for March 24.

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