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On February 1, former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL in federal district court in Manhattan. Flores, who is Black, claims that the NFL discriminated against him and other minorities in hiring, retaining, and compensating head coaches and others in team leadership positions.
You cringe when you read the statistics from his complaint:
Flores' lawsuit seeks more than just money. He also wants change. He specifically asks the judge to form and fund a committee dedicated to creating Black majority NFL team owners and a training program for lower-level Black coaches.
So the question becomes: Can Flores win?
Let's start with the way race discrimination cases work. This is a process, so stick with us here.
The ball starts in Coach Flores' hands. He has to allege — just like any employee would in a race discrimination lawsuit — that:
Let's assume a court finds Flores met his burden here. Then it's the NFL's turn. They have to offer a non-discriminatory reason for the employment decisions Coach Flores challenges. For example, Flores was told, according to his complaint, that he was fired because he was hard to work with.
Then the ball goes back to the coach. He will have to show that the NFL's reasons are phony. To do that, Flores must prove the intent of those in the NFL responsible for making employment decisions.
There are two ways to do this. The first is through direct evidence, which directly proves a fact. Actually seeing someone shoot someone else is direct evidence that they killed them.
The second way is through circumstantial evidence. You infer the fact through evidence. For example, seeing someone holding a smoking gun next to a body is circumstantial evidence that they killed them.
Flores doesn't allege that anyone told him he wasn't getting a job or that he got fired because of race. So there is no direct evidence, meaning his case will rely on circumstantial evidence. Proving intent based on circumstantial evidence is a challenge. Courts will consider the evidence as a whole and will look to specific pieces, such as:
At this stage of the case, the focus is on Flores' complaint. And the allegations are unsettling. Flores alleges the statistics we point out above and much more. There are allegations of bribery, tampering, and a hint of drunken debauchery thrown in. But is it enough to show intentional racial discrimination?
The NFL still needs to respond to the complaint in court. Rather than offering their own side of the story, they may ask that the judge dismiss the case outright. Then it's up to the judge to decide whether the allegations are enough to keep the case alive for now.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.