The statement came swiftly from lawyer Doug Wigdor. And it should be regarded by Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill as a clear warning.
Wigdor, who represents former Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks, reacted sharply to the news that the Panthers had passed over Wilks for Frank Reich.
“We are shocked and disturbed that after the incredible job Coach Wilks did as the interim coach, including bringing the team back into playoff contention and garnering the support of the players and fans, that he was passed over for the head coach position by David Tepper,” Wigdor said. “There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL, and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days.”
The statement comes at a time when the primary plaintiff in the lawsuit Wilks has joined — Brian Flores — is under consideration for the head-coaching job in Arizona. Wilks has sued the Cardinals for firing him after one year. Wilks likely will be suing the Panthers, given the content of Wigdor’s statement. And Flores joined the Texans to the litigation last year, after they interviewed him for the head-coaching job, made him one of three finalists, and eventually went off the board and hired Lovie Smith.
The argument that Flores made against the Texans, that Wilks likely will make against the Panthers, and that Flores would potentially make against the Cardinals is a simple one. The decision not to hire them was motivated in whole or in part by the fact that they have attempted to pursue their rights under federal anti-discrimination laws.
Although many non-lawyers assume it’s perfectly fine to shun someone who has dared to pursue available legal remedies, the law provides separate protection against retaliation. In many cases, the retaliation case is less difficult to prove than the original case, since it’s conceptually easier to sell a jury on the notion that someone who has legitimately made trouble for an employer is regarded derisively as a troublemaker.
By interviewing Flores, the Cardinals have made it hard not to hire him. Unless the person they hire is clearly and obviously more accomplished than Flores, they would be inviting a claim for Flores for retaliation. Basically, that means they need to hire Sean Payton (who interviewed for the job on Thursday) or Flores.
But at least the Cardinals gave Flores an interview. The Texans didn’t, even though he was a finalist last year. The Broncos didn’t; they’re one of the teams Flores sued, alleging a sham interview in the process that resulted in the hiring of Vic Fangio. Neither the Colts nor the Panthers interviewed Flores either, putting them at risk for a retaliation claim, too.
The Cardinals can do the NFL and all of its teams a favor by hiring Flores. The Cardinals also may be doing themselves a favor from a football standpoint by hiring him, since he could be exactly what the organization currently needs, in the aftermath of the loose ship that Kliff Kingsbury ran during his four seasons with the team.
For now, here’s the main point. Wigdor’s statement about the Panthers includes a very strong message to the Cardinals. If they don’t hire Flores, they’d better be able to prove that they have a good reason for it — and that reason can’t be “we don’t want to do business with someone who has dared to sue The Shield.”