Do you have a Donald Sterling in your midst?


The news just broke that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver hit Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, with a lifetime ban from the sport and a $2.5 million fine due to racist remarks attributed to Sterling.  The investigation was prompt, the action swift and the message being sent is powerful.  One of the big issues that remains is that Sterling has been known in the past for making racists comments – yet the NBA did nothing.  Time will tell what the fallout will be for the NBA.

What about your workplace – do you have a Donald Sterling working in your organization? Or, do you have someone who doesn’t like a group of people because of their religion, age or some other protected characteristic?  Don’t be surprised if the answer is “yes.”

Some lessons we can learn from the NBA:

1. Pay attention to rumors. Sometimes a rumor is just that, a rumor. Other times, there might be some hints of truth wrapped around exaggerations that distract us.  I train HR and managers to understand that a rumor is enough to put an employer on notice.  There is no more important word for an employer than “notice.” What are you on notice for in your workplace?  Don’t forget, an employee doesn’t need to use magic words such as Title VII or FEHA in order for you to be put on notice for harassment, discrimination or retaliation.

2. Be proactive. Don’t just wait for a complaint to be made about inappropriate or unlawful conduct.  Act on the rumors, complaints, concerns.  Go out and do an “inquiry” to see if there is anything that warrants further fact finding or an investigation.  Find out your soft spots or issues early on before they expand or become unlawful.  Remember, the law requires that you do a prompt and thorough investigation of EEO complaints, and as noted above, that “notice” of wrongdoing also requires your attention and possible investigation.

3. Stop making excuses. There is no defense entitled “They were only joking” or “our workplace is different.”  The law typically doesn’t make an exception for your “special” workplace.  Are excuses being made in your workplace because of the wrongdoer’s position or power?

4. Take prompt steps to stop the inappropriate conduct. Once you are on notice – do something.  Skip right past the excuses and stop the inappropriate or unlawful conduct.  Do what the NBA did – promptly investigate, take swift action and send a message of what is acceptable and not acceptable in your workplace.

5. Build a culture of respect. All workplaces must be built on respect and must strive for that high standard.  Your culture starts at the top. The NBA sent a message today that respect is the foundation of their league. Make sure you send the same message in your workplace.


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