Your Corporate Message Against Discrimination Must Start at the Top

By Jon Hyman

Apr. 30, 2014

By now, you’ve likely read about Donald Sterling, the now-banned owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, caught on tape by his ex-girlfriend making racist comments.

This story teaches an important lesson about corporate culture and your workplace. If your company has a culture of condoning this type of behavior, no policy, and no amount of training, will render it safe. You need to decide what kind of company you want to be, and set the tone all the time. Then, when any employee (including the CEO or owner) is accused of racism, sexism, or any other illegal -ism, employees will have confidence that your company will arrest the offending behavior quickly and severely.

Kudos to the NBA for taking swift action against Sterling. Your business likely does not require the same type of pubic response made by the NBA. However, the NBA’s swift and decisive action tells all of its employees that racism has no place in its league.

What does an appropriate corporate response to this level of intolerance look like? Here are some of the comments of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (via USA Today):

The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful; that they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage.

Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league.

I am personally distraught that the views expressed by Mr. Sterling came from within an institution that has historically taken such a leadership role in matters of race relations and caused current and former players, coaches, fans and partners of the NBA to question their very association with the league.

To them, and pioneers of the game like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I apologize.… This has been a painful moment for all members of the NBA family. I appreciate the support and understanding of our players during this process, and I am particularly grateful for the leadership shown by Coach Doc Rivers, Union President Chris Paul and Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, who has been acting as the players’ representative in this matter.

We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at

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