Racial Discrimination in the Hiring Process

February is Black History Month. Last Monday, most of America was introduced to an otherwise anonymous Black football coach who decided to put his career at risk by challenging the National Football League’s hiring practices. 

Brian Flores, the former coach of the Miami Dolphins has alleged that the NFL engages in widespread racial discrimination when it comes to hiring football coaches and executives. If he succeeds in his case, kids will read about him and his actions for many Black History Months to come. 

Often, discrimination in the workplace seems obvious on its face. In the NFL, there is only one Black head coach among the 32 teams in the league. This even though the so-called “Rooney Rule” was passed in 2003 mandating that league owners interview at least one racial-minority candidate for each head coaching vacancy as well as senior-level vacancies like team president and team general manager. 

Many of the head coaches that get hired when vacancies occur come from the ranks of successful assistant coaches. Most often, coaches who hold the positions of offensive or defensive coordinator receive serious consideration. Currently in the NFL, only four offensive coordinators are racial minorities, including Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs. Bieniemy has been passed over for multiple head-coaching jobs since 2019 despite leading one of the league’s top-ranked offenses since 2018. 

In his lawsuit, Coach Flores alleges that the New York Giants had made their decision to hire a white offensive coordinator to the head-coaching position three days before Coach Flores was to interview for the position in satisfaction of the Rooney Rule. Coach Flores has alleged that the interview by the Giants was a sham interview designed to appear to satisfy the requirements of the rule. 

The lawsuit states that despite the efforts of Black civil rights leaders like Jackie Robinson, Mamie Till, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. “there is so much more to be done.” The lawsuit asserts that the NFL is “managed much like a plantation.” There are 32 team owners in the league and none are Black. 

The lawsuit alleges that “the owners watch the games from atop NFL stadiums in their luxury boxes, while their majority-Black workforce put their bodies on the line every Sunday, taking vicious hits and suffering debilitating injuries to their bodies and their brains while the NFL and its owners reap billions of dollars.”

The roster of players in the league is seventy percent Black. 

The NFL has had a problem with brain injuries in players leading to a debilitating and chronic disease known as CTE. When it came time to distribute settlement proceeds for the pain and suffering that these men went through putting their bodies on the line for ownership, the NFL used “race-norming.” That is, the NFL, unilaterally decided that Black players started with a lower baseline in cognitive functioning than their white counterparts and therefore distributed fewer settlement dollars to Black players. They based their distribution formula on race.

Some commentators out there think that Coach Flores will never be able to prove his case. From my perspective, I can’t see how he loses. 

Eric Brown is an attorney with offices in Connecticut. He can be reached at 888-579-4222 or online at www.thelaborlawyer.com

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