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Black NFL coach defeats NFL claim of mandatory arbitration

On Behalf of | Mar 13, 2023 | Employment Law

A federal judge in Manhattan recently rejected claims by the National Football League and three of its teams that the racial discrimination lawsuit recently filed by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is not covered by the mandatory arbitration clause in Flores’ contract with the Dolphins. The ruling may have extensive consequences for a sports league that is well known for its alleged racial discrimination, as well as other businesses that use mandatory arbitration clauses as shields against claims of racial discrimination.

The factual background

The plaintiff was the head coach for the Miami Dolphins when the Dolphins fired him after he led the Dolphins to a 24-25 record over three years. The complaint alleged that Flores’ firing was motivated by a systemic racism that pervades the league. The complaint also cited similar actions by the Denver Broncos, the New York Giants and the Houston Texans as evidence of a discriminatory attitude against black head coaching candidates.

The League’s and the teams’ principal defense to the allegations of discrimination was mandatory arbitration clauses in Flores’ various contracts. The judge noted that over 70% of the League’s players were black, while only one head coach was an African American.

The court’s decision

The judge noted that the case had shone an “unflattering light” on the NFL’s employment practices. In ruling that Flores’ case could be heard by a jury, the judge paid careful attention to the league’s alleged racist practices. The court also noted that the arbitration clauses in all of the contracts at issue named league commissioner Roger Goodell as the arbitrator. While the court did not rely on this fact in determining the validity of the mandatory arbitration clauses, she noted that making Goodell the named arbitrator was “worrisome.”

Getting solid legal advice from a labor law attorney

Mandatory arbitration clauses are not limited to the National Football League. In fact, such clauses are common in employment contracts in many industries. They are subject to many challenges and are commonly invalidated. Anyone who is subject to a contract with a mandatory arbitration clause may wish to consult an experienced labor law attorney for advice on arguments that can be used to challenge the validity of such a clause.