Donald Sterling and the Related Workplace

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First, I am glad Dave Zirin finally took the time to point out the similarities between the most recent Donald Sterling drama and Jay Gatsby in the Great Gatsby. In much the same way the racism, personal reinvention, name changes, and an inconstant back story quietly destroyed the lives of “real” or “normal” people in that book, I guarantee Donald Sterling’s admitted shenanigans are destroying lives. It is difficult to imagine a long-standing and systemic racist powerhouse only degraded the kinds of people whose names are worth reporting in the paper.

No one in Texas should be subjected to racism 100 years after the time of the Great Gatsby but I am more concerned about the people and business workplaces that we are not hearing about in the news. Difficult and expensive or not, the players had more and better choices available to them than the employees who are subjected to Sterling’s empires. I am pleased that the players are taking a hard stance on the situation and I am curious to hear about some of the other stories that will be told over time by investigative reporters.

It is extremely likely that systemic racism, like what he ad minted and what is being described in the media, worked its black magic on every single dependent organization that Mr. Sterling effectively controlled. Lets imagine, for example, that Mr. Sterling learned his catering company hired regular “poor black boys” and he insisted the catering company no longer hire “poor black boys” to serve his team. It would be beyond exceptional to find a business owner able to maneuver retaining a client as lucrative and difficult as the Clippers and also adhere to Title VII in its hiring and employment practices. More likely, minority employees of a dependent company were probably encouraged to quit, not promoted, or hidden from sight of Mr. Sterling. Each of those employment responses can lead to an employment discrimination claim.

Those dependent business owners will not be able to claim they were unaware that their employees were systematically exposed to racism that negatively influenced their employment. Reports of Mr. Sterling’s racist activities are admitted, long-standing, well documented, well discussed, and even corroborated in open court records. Many of the employees of Clippers-dependent organizations and workplaces are located in California. In addition to the heightened anti-discrimination protections allowed by state laws to California’s employees, courts in California are notorious for acknowledging federal rights other courts struggle with. These employers will have a very hard time showing any court, much less a California court, that they did not know to protect their employees from discrimination.

I predict that periphery claims of employment discrimination will be plentiful. I further predict that investigative reporters will find these claims like an oncologist finding spreading cancer. Proactive employers caught up in these admitted and publicized activities should immediately take positive steps to conduct workplace investigations related to the ways Mr. Sterling’s activities affected their employees and then responsively remediate.


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