A conservative U.S. legal group has accused the National Football League (NFL) and its teams of engaging in discrimination through its influential “Rooney Rule,” which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for coaching and executive positions.
America First Legal, which was founded by former Trump administration officials, filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that the Rooney Rule amounts to unlawful race bias under federal law.
The complaint comes as NFL teams are hiring a record number of minority head coaches after the league for years was accused of limiting coaching and management opportunities for minorities, including in a pending lawsuit by Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores.
The NFL in a statement provided by a spokesman said the league is proud of the recent growth in diversity.
“We look forward to responding to this complaint and demonstrating that our policies and programs are fully consistent with the law and with fundamental notions of fairness,” the league said.
America First Legal has filed similar complaints with the EEOC targeting workplace diversity initiatives by Major League Baseball and more than two dozen companies including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Morgan Stanley, Activision Blizzard and Kellogg. The group is headed by Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to Republican former President Donald Trump known for his hardline stance on immigration.
The EEOC, which enforces laws banning workplace discrimination, does not have to act on the complaints.
The NFL first adopted the Rooney Rule in 2003 and it has served as a template for businesses, including many leading law firms, looking to implement diversity policies.
“However pure its intention, the fact is that the Rooney Rule cannot stand up to legal scrutiny,” Ian Prior, a lawyer with America First Legal, said in the complaint.
The complaint, which asks the EEOC to investigate the league and its 32 teams, also calls out two other NFL programs designed to build diverse pipelines of job candidates.
America First Legal said the policies violate federal law by depriving white candidates of the chance to be considered for coaching jobs.
The complaint cites a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down race-conscious college admissions policies, saying it showed any attempt at “racial balancing” is unlawful.
The decision, which involved policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, has helped spur fresh attacks by conservative lawyers and groups on diversity programs in employment, education and government contracting.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at a press conference on Monday said he believed the Rooney Rule is still necessary even as teams hire a growing number of minority coaches, and that the policy would remain for “the foreseeable future.”
“We want to show the benefits of looking at diverse slates of candidates,” Goodell said. “To be able to do that has benefited every one of our clubs.”
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