Legal group files civil rights complaint against NFL over Rooney Rule: ‘Insulting and condescending’

A conservative legal group is taking action against the NFL after filing a federal civil rights complaint against the league on Tuesday, claiming that the league’s interview policy promoting diverse leadership violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 

America First Legal (AFL) filed the complaint claiming that the Rooney Rule is a “clear violation” of the law, which “prohibits hiring practices that limit, segregate, or classify applicants for employment because of race, color, and/or sex,” the group said in a press release. 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell visits with referees before kickoff between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on September 7, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

“Effectively, in the twenty years that the Rooney Rule has been in existence, all it has done — according to minority interviewees for head coaching positions and the former head of the NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith — is result in member clubs engaging in sham interviews with minority candidates solely to check the Rooney Rule box,” the press release read. 


“Given the limited timeframe to hire executives and coaches after the season, this results in fewer opportunities for similarly situated, well-qualified candidates who are not minorities.”

The Rooney Rule, adopted in 2003 and named after late Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, has expanded its scope over the years.

In May 2022, the league announced another change that would require all 32 clubs to employ a female or a member of an ethnic or racial minority to serve as an offensive assistant coach beginning this past season. 

NFL logo on field

NFL logo on the field before the game between the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts at Nissan Stadium on December 3, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Colts defeated the Titans 31-28.   (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)


Last month, the league hired four minority head coaches bringing the total to nine for the upcoming season — the most in league history. 

Tuesday’s filings challenge the notion that the interview policy is actually more inclusive. 

“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 statement.  


Penalty flags on Titans field

A flag lays on the ground in front of the NFL logo during a game between the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers, November 26, 2023 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. (Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“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.” 

He continued, “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.”

The NFL did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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