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Elgin Baylor drops racial discrimination claim in suit against L.A. Clippers

Elgin Baylor, who worked in the Clippers' front office for 22 years, is suing the team and owner Donald Sterling for wrongful termination. Baylor had alleged that a racist culture existed in the organization, but the suit will now focus on age discrimination.

March 04, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor speaks at a news conference alongside his wife Elaine as he announces his lawsuit against the Clippers in February 2009. Baylor has dropped part of his racial discrimination lawsuit against the team.
Former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor speaks at a news conference… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)

Elgin Baylor on Friday dropped part of his wrongful-termination lawsuit that alleged the Clippers and owner Donald Sterling committed racial discrimination against him when Baylor was a team executive.

Baylor, 76, is pressing ahead with the rest of his wrongful-termination claim that he suffered age discrimination and was unjustly fired. Baylor was the team's executive vice president and general manager for 22 years until August 2008.

The defendants — who also include team President Andy Roeser and the NBA — have denied the allegations.

Jury selection is scheduled for Monday, with opening statements in the Los Angeles Superior Court case possible on Tuesday.

"The team never felt that the race allegations had any merit at all," Clippers attorney Robert Platt said Friday. "It was only a matter of time before Mr. Baylor would voluntarily dismiss them. The team feels vindicated, and Donald Sterling's position all along was he never, ever engaged in any action based on race. This is a confirmation of that."

In Baylor's lawsuit, filed in February 2009, he cited Sterling's statements and alleged that a racist culture existed.

Baylor called it a "plantation mentality" in a deposition and alleged that Sterling rejected a coaching candidate, Jim Brewer, because he was black. Baylor also alleged that Sterling told No. 1 draft pick Danny Manning that his contractual demands were "a lot of money for a poor black."

"Donald Sterling steadfastly denies having ever made those statements, and he feels vindicated by the court ruling those statements are not admissible at trial," Platt said.

Judge Kenneth R. Freeman, in a hearing with attorneys Wednesday, ruled on several motions to exclude certain statements that were deemed prejudicial or not relevant. The attorneys disagreed on the impact of those rulings.

"Based on the court's tentative ruling on the summary judgment motions, the race claim was going to survive. Mr. Baylor voluntarily chose [on Friday] to dismiss the [race] claim," said Baylor's attorney, Carl Douglas.

Platt said: "We were successful in excluding alleged statements, which gave Mr. Baylor no option but to dismiss the race claim. … We anticipated from the day the lawsuit was filed that the issue of race discrimination would never get to a jury."

The Clippers also deny age discrimination against Baylor, noting their loyalty to someone who presided over a team that made four playoff appearances in 22 seasons.

Baylor countered with a 2006 memo written by Roeser in which Sterling was told, "Elgin is 72 and still not getting any younger."

According to legal documents, the team offered a severance package of $120,000 to Baylor, who never earned more than $350,000 annually with the Clippers.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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