NEW YORK (AP) — A judge on Thursday accelerated the time it would take for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to decide the merits of racial discrimination claims made by black coaches against the league and its teams, in what appears to be an effort. Collecting more evidence is an attempt at an “unauthorized fishing expedition”.
U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni said in a written ruling that lawyers for coaches Brian Flores, Steve Wilks and Ray Horton could not gather additional evidence from the defendants to stay the lawsuit in Manhattan federal court rather than send it to arbitration.
“The court can only assume that they are attempting to embark on an impermissible fishing expedition because the plaintiffs must know whether they have entered into any other agreements or contracts that affect their agreement to arbitrate,” Caproni wrote.
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However, the judge said attorneys for the coaches could argue that the proposed arbitrator was so biased against them that a motion to compel arbitration would not be granted, but they would not need discovery to do so.
Flores, who was fired as the Miami Dolphins’ head coach in January and is now an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, filed a lawsuit in February saying the league publicly denies it is “rife with racism.” Other coaches later joined the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages and class-action status.
The NFL and its six teams say the lawsuit they pursue is “without merit” to go to arbitration, with Goodell as the arbitrator, under terms set forth in employment contracts and the NFL’s constitution.
Caproni wrote that courts historically have not allowed lawyers to collect evidence before deciding whether a case should go to arbitration.
“If the contract is void under state contract law, an agreement to arbitrate is binding on the parties,” she wrote. “Thus, on a motion to compel arbitration, a court’s analysis is generally limited to determining whether there is a valid agreement to arbitrate, whether a party has failed to perform its duties under that agreement, and, if the agreement is properly construed, the dispute at hand.”
Attorneys representing Flores include Douglas H. “We will defeat the NFL’s efforts to move this matter to private and confidential arbitration behind closed doors,” Wigdor and John Eleftherakis said in a statement.
“It is clear that the NFL is trying to hide behind this process and avoid public scrutiny of the racial discrimination and retaliation claims we have brought. If they are confident in their defence, they should let the process play out in court for the general public to see,” the lawyers said.
Attorneys for the NFL and its teams did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.