At the beginning of Black history month, in a class action complaint against the NFL and others replete with heart-breaking allegations of racism, former Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins, Brian Flores, charged that, among many other things, he and other members of the proposed class have been denied positions as head coaches and general managers as a result of racial discrimination. Defendants that have responded publicly have reportedly denied the allegations and said that the claims are without merit. Particularly notable from a governance and DEI perspective are allegations regarding the disingenuous application of the vaunted “Rooney Rule”—which originated in the NFL back in 2002 in an effort to address the dearth of Black head coaches—but has since become almost de rigueur in governance circles as one effective approach to increasing diversity in a wide variety of contexts, including boards of directors. However well-intentioned originally, the complaint alleges, “the Rooney Rule is not working.” Flores claims that, to fulfill the admonitions of the Rooney Rule, NFL teams “discriminatorily subjected” him and other Black candidates “to sham and illegitimate interviews due in whole or part to their race and/or color.” While this claim is far from the most incendiary in the complaint, if shown to be accurate, it would certainly seriously damage the reputation of the defendants involved. Can an approach that has allegedly failed to work in its original setting still be made to work effectively in other contexts?
NYC Comptroller’s Office initiates Boardroom Accountability Project 3.0 promoting adoption of the “Rooney Rule”
And speaking of the NYC Comptroller’s Boardroom Accountability Project, as I just did in this PubCo post on the Project’s push for proxy access, on Friday, Stringer announced the newest phase of the Project, Boardroom Accountability Project 3.0, an initiative designed to increase board and CEO diversity. The third phase of the initiative calls on companies to adopt a version of the “Rooney Rule,” a policy originally created by the National Football League to increase the number of minority candidates considered for head coaching and general manager positions. Under the policy requested by the Comptroller’s Office, companies would commit to including women and minority candidates in every pool from which nominees for open board seats and CEOs are selected. The announcement claims that the Project 3.0 represents “the first time a large institutional investor has called for this structural reform for both new board directors and CEOs.” Notably, the announcement also indicates that the Comptroller’s Office will “file shareholder proposals at companies with lack of apparent racial diversity at the highest levels.” The Comptroller’s Office characterizes the new initiative as the “cornerstone” of its Boardroom Accountability Project that “seeks to make meaningful, long-lasting, and structural change in the market practice so that women and people of color are welcomed in the door and considered for every open director seat as well as for the job of CEO.” Given Stringer’s success with his proxy access campaign, companies should pay close attention.