Responses to racial discrimination: the Sterling case and beyond
The rapid and forceful response this week to racist remarks by the owner of a professional sports team is not only a powerful reminder that racial discrimination is wrong. It is also a powerful reminder that it is possible to take action against it.
Adam Silver, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) did not only impose a fine on Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, for making offensive racist comments. Silver also banned Sterling from the NBA for life.
Sterling may also be forced to sell the team, pending a vote of the other NBA owners.
The offensive comments were directed to a woman who is allegedly Sterling’s mistress. He reportedly disparaged her for associating with black men and told her not to accompany them to Clippers’ games.
Though the comments were made in a private cellphone call, they were publicly reported on a gossip website. By last weekend, the story was national news. The Clippers, in a nationally televised playoff game, wore their warm-up jerseys inside-out to obscure the Clippers’ logo – an apparent act of protest against Sterling.
The controversy escalated suddenly, but there was an extensive back story.
There have been numerous allegations of racial discrimination in the last decade against Donald Sterling. In 2008, NBA Hall-of-Famer Elgin Baylor brought suit against Sterling, contending there was racial bias in forcing him to leave his job as the Clippers general manager.
Sterling has also faced lawsuits by others who charged racial discrimination. One of those suits accused Sterling of discriminating against Korean tenants in apartment buildings he owned. Another suit – this was brought by the U.S. Justice Department, alleged racial discrimination against blacks and Hispanics.
Both of these cases were settled out of court – one for an undisclosed amount and the other for $2.7 million.
In short, the offensive speech by Sterling that the NBA confronted this week did not come out of the blue. And the swift response by Clippers’ players and the NBA commissioner shows that racism be effectively challenged.
One of the ways this can be done is through employment litigation challenging racial discrimination in employment.
For example, minority firefighter applicants successfully challenged the New York City Fire Department’s hiring practices. As we discussed in our March 21 post, the Fire Department has agreed to pay $98 million to settle that case. The department has also agreed to reforms in the hiring process.
Our point is that though racial discrimination still exists, both in the workplace and in society, it does not have to be tolerated.
Source: The Christian Science Monitor, “Donald Sterling: Who is the Los Angeles Clippers owner, really?” Gloria Goodale, April 30, 2014