Baylor's divorce from the Clippers continues to get uglier.  In yesterday's New York Post, Peter Vecsey reported, "there's talk by Johnnie Cochran's former law partner regarding a possible age-discrimination law suit . . . and worse." 

Clipperblog exchanged emails with Michael McCann, Sports Illustrated legal analyst, law professor at Vermont Law School and Boston College Law School, and contributor to Sports Law Blog. I asked McCann whether Elgin Baylor would have an actionable age discrimination suit against the Clippers. 

Here's McCann's take:
Absent a damaging piece of evidence (e.g., empirical evidence showing an unusual pattern of older employees being fired by the Clippers; evidence of a workplace where Baylor or other older employees were treated with hostility because of age; an email from ownership stating or alluding to Baylor's age as a source of concern etc.), it would probably be difficult for Baylor to succeed in an age discrimination lawsuit--assuming that Baylor was even fired or constructively discharged, rather than, as the Clippers contend, he voluntarily resigned. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination against persons over the age of 40 due to their age (California has a similar state law, the Fair Employment and Housing Act), but employers can generally relieve themselves of liability when they can show there were "reasonable factors other than age" to justify the employment decision.

Given the Clippers' on-court struggles under Baylor, and given that NBA general managers are routinely replaced when their teams' struggle, it would seem there were plausible business reasons for management to change direction. On the other hand, Baylor might question why the team's failures in previous seasons, under the same ownership group, did not trigger his dismissal and yet here they would. Still, it would seem the team has the upper-hand in that debate, especially if Baylor's employment contract (if he had one) contained language on expectations for team success.

Another plausible business reason would be if there had been an internal power struggle between Baylor and coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr. which was won by Dunleavy. In that scenario, the organization may have perceived that it was in its best interests to remove Baylor from any role in basketball operations, particularly if Dunleavy thought that Baylor was somehow disrupting his vision for the team.

Bottom line: Baylor would probably face an uphill fight in proving age discrimination, though until we know what was going on with the Clippers, it's hard to make any certain predictions.