Elgin Baylor’s wrongful termination and age-discrimination civil lawsuit against the Clippers is expected to arrive in the hands of jurors Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
In closing statements Monday, the team’s attorney blasted Baylor’s claim and urged the panel to deprive him of any financial payoff.
Ridiculing Baylor’s complaints against team executives who asked him about his birthday and how he was feeling in the years before the NBA great’s split with the team as executive vice president, Clippers attorney Robert Platt told jurors, “You’d have to have police at every workplace saying you can’t sing, ‘Happy Birthday.’ ”
Baylor, 76, parted with the Clippers after 22 seasons in 2008 when the team offered him a $10,000 monthly consultant’s package.
He rejected the deal and a later offer to return to his position, alleging in his February 2009 wrongful termination case that he wouldn’t come back to a hostile environment presided over by Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling and team President Andy Roeser, who were named in the lawsuit and attended Monday’s closing statements.
Baylor’s attorneys stated that the job loss thrust Baylor into a depression, including crying spells, and he required medication.
Baylor’s attorney, Alvin J. Pittman, told the jurors they had the ability to award Baylor nearly $2 million, factoring in $997,500 as three years’ of salary Baylor could have earned by working through this season, as well as funds for mental distress.
“How much is it worth to leave you in your solitude, crying?” Pittman asked the jurors.
“The plaintiff relied on rhetoric and hyperbole, and we relied on the evidence,” Platt said outside court. "[Baylor] was never demoted or discriminated against.”
Pittman told jurors to note emails from Roeser to Sterling that Baylor was “72 years old and still not getting any younger.” Pittman said the Clippers moved on Baylor’s “figurehead” status by allowing former coach Mike Dunleavy and Roeser to assert more influence in player-personnel decisions.
Platt answered that Baylor played a major role in approving all 153 Clippers player transactions between 2003 and 2008, and that Baylor never filed a complaint to the team about mistreatment.
Platt said the Clippers had every right to dismiss Baylor at any time, instead opting to reward him with the “smooth landing” of a consultant’s package rather than terminate him after only four playoff appearances in 22 seasons.
“This isn’t discrimination,” Platt told the jury. “This is quitting and suing, lawyer-ing up to get some money. … His opinion was he could make more money from you than [Sterling].”