As an employment law attorney I’ve been following recent events and unless you avoid sports-related news, you have heard that Donald Sterling, the coach of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, was recently banned for life from the NBA because of racist comments he made in private conversation. Before the ban was announced, there was a lot of talk in the media about whether the players for the Clippers would or should refuse to play their scheduled playoff games against the Golden State Warriors. The NBA’s ban of Sterling apparently made such a boycott unnecessary.
The situation raises multiple legal questions, including, for example: is it legal to record a private conversation without the other party’s consent? What rights does the NBA have in terms of punishing Sterling? Can the Clippers basketball players refuse to play without being in breach of contract? Can Sterling be sued for employment discrimination?
No doubt these types of questions and others will be discussed among the parties involved and their attorneys over the next several days and beyond. And while most of us do not play in the NBA, many people can relate to the basketball players who were offended by their boss. It is also good to know that there are laws to protect people from undue discrimination in the workplace.
Generally, an employer in Arizona may not take an adverse employment action (such as firing or demoting an employee) based on a discriminatory motive such as race, sex, or disability. But what if an employer makes discriminatory remarks without actually firing or demoting a person? In such a case, an employee might be able to quit his job and then sue the employer for what is called a constructive discharge.
Under Arizona Revised Statute section 23-1502, a claim for constructive discharge can be established if there exist “objectively difficult or unpleasant working conditions to the extent that a reasonable employee would feel compelled to resign.” However, unless the employer’s actions rise to the level of
“outrageous conduct” (this includes conduct such as “sexual assault,” “threats of violence,” or “a continuous pattern of discriminatory harassment”), it is necessary for the employee to give the employer notice of the unpleasant working conditions and a chance to correct them.