America First Legal has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the National Football League alleging discrimination under the “Rooney Rule.”
The rule requires NFL teams to interview minority and female candidates when hiring coaches and for executive positions.
Filed on February 6 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the complaint alleges that the NFL violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by using sex and race as determining factors in hiring decisions.
“When millions of Americans tune in to the Super Bowl, they will be watching meritocracy in action; the best players, on the best teams, with the best coaches. Yet, every year during this time NFL teams must follow the ‘Rooney Rule’ and interview prospective coaches and executives, not because of their skill and hard work, but rather because of the color of their skin,” America First Legal senior advisor Ian Prior said in a press release.
“This process is not only insulting and condescending to prospective coaches who are merely interviewed to check a box, but it is also the exact kind of racial balancing that the Supreme Court of the United States has unequivocally denounced as illegal and anathema to equal protection under the law.”
America First Legal contends that NFL teams conduct “sham” interviews with minority coaches and female executives to fulfill the rule.
“If the National Football League truly wants to end discrimination in the employment process, then the NFL should stop discriminating in the employment process, follow the meritocratic system it displays on the field, and eliminate the Rooney Rule,“ Prior said.
Brian Flores, the former Miami Dolphins head coach, filed a lawsuit in 2022 alleging discrimination after being interviewed by the Denver Broncos, New York Giants, and Houston Texans in what he claims amounted to sham interviews. All three teams had privately and publicly announced who they intended to hire, but due to the Rooney Rule, were obligated to interview Flores.
His case is still pending, but a judge in the Southern District of New York ruled in 2023 that part of his claim would go to arbitration overseen by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, according to Today’s Esquire.
The Rooney Rule is named after former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, Dan Rooney. Rooney was the chairman of the league’s Diversity Advisory Committee. The rule requires teams to interview at least two external minority or female candidates for every head coach, general manager, and coordinator position and at least one minority or female candidate for vacant quarterback coach positions or any senior-level executive position.
In a statement to Forbes, the NFL said the Rooney Rule has resulted in the “growth in diversity throughout the NFL,” and the league will “demonstrate that our policies and programs are fully consistent with the law and with fundamental notions of fairness.”
In its letter to the EEOC, America First Legal cites the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned four decades of affirmative action, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard College.
The EEOC did not directly reply to an inquiry from Forbes but referred the magazine to a June 2023 statement from EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows regarding the Supreme Court decision, which said that it “remains lawful for employers to implement diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility programs that seek to ensure workers of all backgrounds are afforded equal opportunity in the workplace.”