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By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Football League on Thursday said lawsuits by three Black coaches accusing the league of racist hiring practices should be dismissed because the claims lack legal merit, or else sent to arbitration.
The league set forth its expected defenses to the claims of Brian Flores and two other coaches in a filing in Manhattan federal court, ahead of a scheduled May 2 initial conference with U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni.
Flores, fired in January as the Miami Dolphins head coach after back-to-back winning seasons, sued in February, accusing the NFL and its 32 teams of hiring discrimination for coaching and senior management jobs.
Two more Black coaches, former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and longtime assistant coach Ray Horton, joined as plaintiffs in the proposed class action on April 7.
Flores' case has shined unflattering attention on the NFL,
which has long condemned racism.
The league has also since 2003 required teams to consider
minority candidates for head coaching vacancies under its
so-called Rooney Rule, and in 2009 expanded the rule to cover
general manager jobs.
In Thursday's letter, the NFL denied the plaintiffs' claims, including that Flores underwent a "sham" interview recently with the New York Giants to comply with the Rooney Rule, and a similar interview more than three years ago with the Denver Broncos.
"Defendants have not discriminated against plaintiffs (or the Black coaches and general managers they purport to represent) on the basis of their race, nor have Defendants retaliated against Mr. Flores for filing this lawsuit," lawyers for the NFL wrote.
Lawyers for Flores, Wilks and Horton said in the same letter they plan to assert claims under a federal civil rights law known as Title VII, and that any effort to send the case into arbitration would be "futile."
The Pittsburgh Steelers hired Flores in February as a senior defensive assistant and linebacker coach.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)