A.G. Schneiderman: National Football League Must Prevent Employment Discrimination In Recruiting Process

After Recruits At Scouting Combine Report Teams Asked Questions About Sexual Orientation, Schneiderman Calls On NFL Commissioner To Issue Formal League Policy And Conduct Full Investigation

Schneiderman: Employment Discrimination Is Wrong And Illegal No Matter Who The Employer Is

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric Schneiderman today called on National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell to take strong action to ensure the NFL and all of its franchises do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation against players and recruits. In a letter to the Commissioner, Schneiderman called on the League to issue a formal written policy making clear that any form of discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation by League teams or employees against potential recruits or players constitutes a violation of state, local and, in some cases, contractual law and will not be tolerated.

Under New York State’s employment discrimination laws, companies that are based in or do business in the state are not permitted to ask employees or potential job candidates questions about their sexual orientation. In addition, at least two dozen of 32 NFL teams are headquartered in jurisdictions that have similar employment discrimination laws in place.

“From the Scouting Combine to the playing fields, everyone deserves equal protection under the law and the right to a fair workplace,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “In New York State, we have no tolerance for discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. Employment discrimination is ethically wrong and illegal no matter who the employer is. I hope we can work together with the National Football League to send a powerful message that employment discrimination will not be tolerated in any form.”

Last month, media reports indicated that at least three prospective National Football League players -- Nick Kasa, Denard Robinson and Le’veon Bell -- were asked questions related to their sexual orientation at the national recruitment Scouting Combine held in late February 2013 in Indianapolis. According to one prospective player, Nick Kasa, teams within the League asked prospects if they have a girlfriend, are married, or like girls.

Under the New York State Human Rights Law,it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire or employ an individual because of sexual orientation. The law further bars any employer from “mak[ing] any inquiry in connection with prospective employment, which expresses directly or indirectly, any limitation, specification or discrimination as to . . . sexual orientation . . . or any intent to make any such limitation, specification or discrimination.” Under New York State law, the Attorney General’s office has authority to investigate allegations of employment discrimination by companies in the State of New York.

In addition, the Collective Bargaining Agreement the League signed in 2011 includes a commitment that, "[t]here will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.” This provision does not, however, appear to provide any protection to prospective players during the recruitment process.

In his letter to Commissioner Goodell, Attorney General Schneiderman urged the League to demonstrate a strong commitment to creating a work environment free of discrimination by issuing a written, League-wide policy that, once finalized, would be appropriately distributed and disseminated. He offered the support of his office’s Civil Rights Bureau to assist in development of this policy.

"Even if this was just one ignorant employee on one team asking one prospect, the fact that anyone involved with the NFL would think this is acceptable proves how much education needs to be done, on LGBT issues and employment law" said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick."The NFL agreed to meet with GLAAD and the You Can Play Project to speak about these issues, but that needs to be a priority, before the league continues to harm its LGBT fans, employees, and yes - current players. We are asking that this happen immediately, and we thank Attorney General Schneiderman for encouraging that to happen."

The following are excerpts from Attorney General Schneiderman’s letter:

  • “Equal protection under the law is an essential issue for employers, employees and prospective job applicants. For that reason, I ask that the League clarify its position by issuing a public statement that any form of discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation by League teams or their employees or agents against potential recruits or players constitutes a violation of state, local and, in some cases, contractual law, and will not be tolerated.”
  • “I also urge the League to memorialize this commitment in a written policy that, once finalized, is appropriately distributed and disseminated throughout the League. Our office stands prepared to offer guidance and support in the development of this policy.”
  • “We will be seeking a meeting with the League staff supervising your investigation of the incidents reported by prospective players.”

A copy of Attorney General Schneiderman’s letter to Commissioner Goodell can be found here: www.ag.ny.gov/pdfs/NFL_Final.pdf

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