A judge on Thursday made it likely she’ll rule in weeks rather than months whether NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gets to decide the merits of racial-discrimination claims made by Black coaches against the league and its teams, saying an effort to gather more evidence seems like “an impermissible fishing expedition.”
U.S. District Justice Valerie Caproni said in a written ruling that lawyers for coaches Brian Flores, Steve Wilks and Ray Horton cannot gather additional evidence from defendants to support their arguments that the lawsuit in Manhattan federal court should remain in court rather than be sent to arbitration.
Her ruling makes it likely that a decision on whether to move the case to arbitration or let it remain in Manhattan federal court will be decided in weeks rather than months.
“Because Plaintiffs should know whether they entered into any other contracts or agreements that would affect their agreement to arbitrate, the Court can only assume that they are attempting to embark on an impermissible fishing expedition,” Caproni wrote.
Still, the judge said lawyers for the coaches may well be able to argue that the proposed arbitrator is so biased against them that the motion to compel arbitration should not be granted, but they do not need discovery to do so. In legal cases, “discovery” references evidence such as e-mails and text messages that lawyers try to get from their opponents to strengthen their arguments.
Flores, who was fired in January as head coach of the Miami Dolphins and is now an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, filed the lawsuit in February, saying the league was “rife with racism” even as it publicly condemns it. The other coaches later joined the lawsuit, which sought unspecified damages and class-action status.
The NFL and six of its teams say the lawsuit they maintain is “without merit” is required to go to arbitration, where Goodell would be the arbitrator, according to the terms laid out in employment contracts and the NFL’s constitution.
Caproni wrote that courts have not historically allowed lawyers to gather evidence prior to deciding whether a case is required to go to arbitration.
Her decision came just days after the NFL released the results of its investigation into allegations by Flores that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered US$100,000 a game to purposely lose games.
The NFL suspended Ross and fined him US$1.5-million for having impermissible communications with Tom Brady when he was under contract with the New England Patriots and with Sean Payton before he announced his decision to retire as coach of the New Orleans Saints.
In a statement, Ross had called Flores’s allegations “false, malicious and defamatory.”