(800) 350-0454 (310) 207-8500

Donald Sterling’s Statements & Future Racial Discrimination Lawsuits

By admin in Posted May 1st, 2014

Donald Sterling’s Statements & Future Racial Discrimination Lawsuits By: Lee R. Feldman As the whole world knows, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was recently recorded making egregiously racist statements, including telling his girlfriend not to bring Black friends like Magic Johnson to Clippers games. Mr. Sterling has a long history of making similar racist remarks. If Mr. Sterling chooses to defy the NBA’s decision to force him to sell the team, he can expect a flurry of lawsuits from minority employees working for the Clippers who believe he has mistreated them or fired them wrongfully. While it does not appear that any current employees of Donald Sterling’s companies, including the Clippers, are suing him for racial discrimination, his recent racist comments could open the floodgates for such lawsuits in the future. Why? Because Mr. Sterling’s racist statements are considered the most valuable form of evidence in employment discrimination lawsuits.

The law treats racist statements by top officers in a company as direct evidence of discriminatory intent, which even without other evidence often permits a jury to infer that employment decisions made by those individuals were infected with racial bias. As one appellate court observed: “Evidence of clear discriminatory intent [] is like a gold nugget which just happens to be lying on the ground …[It] is overwhelmingly probative in a discrimination case because it shines a spotlight on the very thing which is the focus of the litigation.” O’Mary v. Mitsubishi Electronics America, Inc. (1997) 59 Cal.App.4th 563, 575. Importantly, while judges are often eager to throw out discrimination cases before they reach a jury, and “circumstantial evidence of discrimination must be ‘specific’ and ‘substantial’ to defeat summary judgment, [] the plaintiff is required to produce ‘very little’ direct evidence of the employer’s discriminatory intent to move past summary judgment.” Morgan v. Regents of University of Cal., 88 Cal.App.4th 52, 69. What this means is that all employment actions that Donald Sterling has ever taken, or takes in the future, against minority employees, will be viewed by a jury through the prism of his now-admitted racism. Employees whose terminations he approved or ordered, whether for trivial reasons or significant ones, will be subjected to heightened scrutiny. In light of the irrefutable racist attitudes and beliefs Mr. Sterling expressed on tape, Judges will find it far more difficult to throw out even the weakest discrimination cases if Mr. Sterling played any role in making the challenged employment decision.

Minority workers, whether employed by the Clippers or any other Sterling company, will be free to sue and argue that the reasons Mr. Sterling offered for demoting or firing them, or refusing to hire them, were mere “pretexts” or smokescreens for his underlying racial animus. Employees who can point to Caucasian workers who engaged in similar conduct without being fired by Sterling will have additional firepower to win discrimination lawsuits. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973) 411 U.S. 792, 804 (“Especially relevant to such a showing [of pretext] would be evidence that white employees involved in acts against petitioner of comparable seriousness … were nevertheless retained or rehired.”). Therefore, most if not all discrimination cases filed against Mr. Sterling’s companies will reach a jury. And Mr. Sterling is unlikely to find a jury of 12 Angelinos who are inclined to disbelieve claims that he made racist employment decisions after hearing him voice.

May 1, 2014