When a rival owner proposes making all the Clippers’ players – including highly coveted Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – free agents, that’s one thing.
When a Clippers player proposes getting out of his contract, that’s something else entirely.
One Clippers player wondered in a conversation with The Times whether he could get out of his contract by citing Sterling for creating a “hostile work environment.” The player declined to be identified because team members were told not to discuss the matter.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (emphasis mine):
Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.
Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.
It seems the player would at least have a case.
The Clippers’ struggles in Game 4 could certainly be attributed to an intimidating, hostile or abusive work environment. The players definitely didn’t look comfortable on the court, and that could be due Donald Sterling’s alleged comments.
Doc Rivers furthered the perception of an intimidating work environment when he said, “We’re going home now, and usually that would mean we’re going to our safe haven, and I don’t even know if that’s true, to be honest.”
But even a finding in favor of the player wouldn’t necessarily result in a voided contract. The legal process could determine other consequences – like financial penalties – are more appropriate.
A Clippers player getting out of his contract by citing a hostile work environment is at least plausible, but it’s not necessarily an easy legal battle to win.