Elgin Baylor, the Clippers executive vice president whose 22-year tenure with the club ended in dispute before the season, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against the NBA, the Clippers, owner Donald Sterling and club president Andy Roeser in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday.
The lawsuit maintains that Baylor was “discriminated against and unceremoniously released from his position with the team on account of his age and his race” and that he was “grossly underpaid during his tenure with the Clippers, never earning more than $350,000 per year, when compared with the compensation scheme for general managers employed by every other team in the NBA.”
When reached on his cellphone Wednesday night, Baylor said that his attorneys had advised him not to speak on the matter until today.
His lawyer, Carl Douglas, said that he had been trying to reach an informal settlement with the Clippers for months, but “those talks proved unsuccessful so we were left with no alternative but to file a lawsuit.”
Asked whether they had hoped to avoid a lawsuit, Douglas said, “Given my knowledge and understanding of the way that the Clipper organization operates, we were always hopeful we could resolve things informally but fully expected we’d be forced to file the lawsuit as we did.”
In a statement from their general counsel Robert H. Platt, the team said it “intends to vigorously defend itself against these false allegations and will prevail when all the facts are heard.”
Platt added that he had not yet seen the complaint, but “I can categorically state that the Clippers always treated Elgin fairly throughout his long tenure with the team. Prior to his decision to leave the team last October, Elgin never raised any claims of unfair treatment.
“It’s hard to believe that he would now make these ridiculous claims after the organization stood by him during 22 years and only three playoff appearances. It would be hard to find any sports team that has demonstrated greater loyalty to its general manager.”
The NBA is named in the lawsuit, according to a fax sent by Douglas on Wednesday evening, as “a joint venturer/partner of condoning, adopting and ratifying this discriminatory practice since the league is fully aware of salaries paid to all of the general managers.”
The Web site TMZ.com reported that in the lawsuit, Baylor said that owner Donald Sterling has a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude” and alleges that Sterling repeatedly referred to the team as “poor black kids” and “wanted a white coach directing the Clippers.”
Sterling has hired 13 head coaches since buying the Clippers in 1981: three of them (Don Chaney, Alvin Gentry and Dennis Johnson) have been black. Current coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy is white.
In 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Sterling, also a real estate mogul, accusing him of favoring Korean tenants and seeking to exclude blacks from his apartment buildings in Los Angeles County.
In November 2005, U.S. District Judge Dale Fisher ordered Sterling to pay nearly $5 million in fees to plaintiffs attorneys in a lawsuit accusing him of discriminating against black and Latino tenants in buildings he owned in Koreatown neighborhoods.
The case was resolved with an undisclosed financial settlement the judge described as “one of the largest ever obtained in this type of case.”
Two weeks earlier, a jury found in Sterling’s favor in a sexual harassment suit filed by a former property manager.
Baylor, 74, who played 14 seasons with the Lakers, was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1976 and chosen as one of the NBA’s “50 Greatest Players of All Time” during the league’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 1997.
He has been with the Clippers since 1986. He was named the NBA’s Executive of the Year in 2006.