Elgin Baylor reacts during the NBA draft on May 21, 2000. (Bill Kostroun / Associated…)
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury Wednesday unanimously rejected NBA great Elgin Baylor's wrongful-termination lawsuit against the Clippers.
The jury of seven men and five women voted "no" to all of Baylor's claims that the Clippers, owner Donald T. Sterling and team President Andy Roeser oversaw a hostile workplace. Baylor, now 76, alleged he was harassed and subjected to age discrimination leading to his 2008 departure after 22 years as a Clippers executive.
The jury deliberated for less than four hours.
"We just didn't feel the action taken by the Clippers was based on Mr. Baylor's age as much as they felt it was just time to make a change in that position," jury foreman John Casani said. "That team hadn't been performing, and we felt had they been succeeding like the Boston Celtics, he'd still be on the job."
Baylor, the Clippers' longtime head of player personnel as general manager and executive vice president, sought nearly $2 million in economic and mental distress damages after filing a wrongful-termination lawsuit two years ago that included claims of racism. The racism claim was dropped before the trial.
Baylor declined to comment outside the courtroom, and his attorney, Alvin J. Pittman, said he was considering an appeal.
"When this case began, they held a press conference demanding $25 million," Clippers attorney Robert Platt said outside court. "We knew then, and now know, the case wasn't worth 25 cents."
Platt said that as recently as Wednesday morning a team insurance carrier was urging Sterling and Roeser to settle the case.
"This case was never about the money; my clients refused to settle based on principle," Platt said. "They never did anything wrong, and this result was inevitable. The fact the jury came back 12-0 on every claim serves as the ultimate vindication."
Foreman Casani said there was sentiment among a few jurors to give Baylor some financial award based on sympathy, but the jury concluded he was an at-will employee who reasonably deserved to be let go after the Clippers made the playoffs only four times in his 22 years as an executive.
Another juror, Jacob Lopez, 28, of Los Angeles, said he argued in deliberations for Baylor to receive some payoff because of some actions he viewed as distasteful by the team — including Roeser's emailing to Sterling that Baylor was "still not getting any younger."
"He gave 22 years to the Clippers, that's a big task," Lopez said. "He should be rewarded something. There didn't need to be this behind-the-back, push-him-out thing.… Just tell him that they no longer wanted him."
Baylor heard Lopez's words outside court and walked over to shake the juror's hand. The former Lakers star and NBA Hall of Famer then nodded sadly in defeat and embraced his wife, Elaine.
Said Pittman, his attorney: "Elgin will go on. He wanted his day in court."
Although Clippers attorney Platt in court told jurors the team was still willing to give Baylor a $10,000 monthly consultant's deal they offered in 2008, Pittman said he didn't expect the offer to stand, calling it "a public show to color the jury's thinking."
Said Platt: "It was Elgin who decided to sever his ties with the team."