Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks (pictured), who was fired in 2018 after one season, is now part of a class-action lawsuit against the NFL that alleges racial discrimination within its hiring and firing practices. File Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, April 7 (UPI) -- Ex-NFL coaches Steve Wilks and Ray Horton joined ex-Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores' class-action lawsuit against the league, which alleges racial discrimination in hiring practices, Flores' lawyers said Thursday.
The Dolphins fired Flores on Jan. 10. Three weeks later, his lawyers, Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis, filed the class-action lawsuit against the NFL and its 32 teams in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The amended 100-page compliant, filed Thursday and obtained by UPI, includes additional allegations from Flores, Wilks and Horton against several NFL franchises.
An initial pretrial conference for the lawsuit is to be held before U.S. District Court Judge Valerie E. Caproni at 11 a.m. EDT April 29.
In the amended complaint, Flores expands on his claims that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered to pay him for losses during the 2019 season. He alleged that was an attempt by Ross to improve the franchise's pick placement in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
The NFL's initial statement in response to the lawsuit said that Flores' claims were "without merit," but the league is investigating the allegations. The Dolphins, Denver Broncos, New York Giants and other teams denied Flores' allegations.
Wilks coached the Arizona Cardinals and was fired in 2018 after one season. He now is the defensive pass game coordinator and secondary coach for the Carolina Panthers. Horton was an NFL assistant from 1994 through 2019. Wilks and Horton, like Flores, are both Black men.
"When coach Flores filed this action, I knew I owed it to myself, and to all Black NFL coaches and aspiring coaches, to stand with him," Wilks said in a statement released by the lawyers. "This lawsuit has shed further important light on a problem that we all know exists, but that too few are willing to confront.
"Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed, and remain employed, as white coaches and candidates.
"That is not currently the case, and I look forward to working with coach Flores and coach Horton to ensure that the aspiration of racial equality in the NFL becomes a reality."
The amended complaint states that Wilks was "discriminated against" by the Cardinals in a "manner consistent with the experiences of many Black coaches." It also alleges that the Cardinals hired Wilks as a "bridge coach," and that he was not given any "meaningful chance to succeed."
Interview called a sham
The lawyers who represent Flores also allege that the Tennessee Titans conducted a "sham interview" with Horton to comply with the NFL's Rooney Rule in 2016 for their previous head coaching vacancy.
The Rooney Rule, established in 2003, previously required each NFL team to interview at least two external minority candidates for head coaching positions. The rule was updated this off-season to include additional opportunities for women.
"I am proud to stand with coach Flores and coach Wilks in combatting the systemic discrimination which has plagued the NFL for far too long," Horton said in a statement.
Former Titans coach Mike Mularkey, who was hired instead of Wilks in 2016, admitted during a 2020 podcast interview that he knew he was hired before the franchise went on to conduct other interviews for that vacancy. A link to that podcast is included in the complaint.
"I sat there knowing I was the head coach in 2016 as they went through this fake hiring process," Mularkey said.
"Knowing a lot of the coaches they were interviewing, knowing how much they prepared to go through those interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance of getting that job."
The Titans denied those claims before Flores filed the class-action lawsuit.
"When I learned from coach Mularkey's statements that my head coach interview with the Titans was a sham, I was devastated and humiliated," Horton said. "By joining this case, I am hoping to turn that experience into a positive and make lasting change and create true equal opportunity in the future."
In his amended complaint, the attorneys also allege that the Houston Texans "retaliated" against Flores by not considering him this off-season for their head-coaching vacancy because of his decision to file the lawsuit against the league and its teams. The Texans went on to hire veteran coach Lovie Smith, who is also Black.
Texans defend decision
The Texans issued a statement Thursday, saying their search for a head coach was "very thorough and inclusive." The Dolphins and Cardinals did not immediately respond to the allegations made in the amended complaint.
"Due to his previous success as a coach in the NFL, Brian Flores was among the first candidates we held a formal interview with for the position and he remained a candidate until the very end," the Texans said.
"We have a lot of respect for Brian both personally and professionally; he has been a competitive coach in the league for a number of years and his resume speaks for itself.
"We enjoyed our multiple conversations with Brian regarding his vision for our organization, which included an in-person meeting with the McNair [ownership] family and general manager Nick Caserio.
"In the end, we made the decision to hire Lovie Smith as our head coach and we believe he is the best fit for our team moving forward.
"It was a very fluid process that allowed us to spend time with a number of quality candidates. We are proud of our decision and will vigorously defend our process."
Memo cited toxicity
Flores' legal team also expanded on the allegations against Ross, the Dolphins' owner, in the amended complaint. The complaint states the Flores sent a "memorandum" in 2019 to Dolphins general manager Chris Grier, CEO Tom Garfinkel and senior vice president of football Brandon Shore.
That memorandum detailed "toxicity" that existed in the Dolphins organization and informed the front office about the alleged "unreasonable position" Flores was placed in by team ownership and upper management.
The lawyers said the NFL was sent a copy of that memorandum. The NFL and its teams have not filed formal answers to the court in response to the allegations.
The NFL hired former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Joe White to investigate Flores' claims that Ross offered him payment in exchange for losses. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters at the NFL owners meetings last month in Palm Beach, Fla., that there is "no timetable" for White to report her findings to the league.
The league also announced last month that it created a six-member diversity advisory committee to review league and team policies for diverse hiring. In addition, team owners adopted a new resolution at the meetings that requires each team to hire a "diverse person (female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority)" to serve as an offensive assistant.
The Pittsburgh Steelers hired Flores in February to work as their senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach.
"I continue to be humbled by the outpouring of support in connection with my claims against the NFL and applaud Steve Wilks and Ray Horton for standing up against systemic race discrimination," Flores said in a statement.
"Their claims are the unfortunate reality of the problems facing Black coaches in the NFL which our collective hope in this case is to end once and for all."