Accusations of discrimination can be costly in money and reputation to businesses of all sizes. United Airlines is currently facing a $10 million lawsuit by a former professional basketball player. The suit involves a flight in July.
Eric Murdock, who spent nine seasons in the NBA, was returning from a conference with his son. Apparently, the two were not able to get assigned seats together. He says that before the flight took off, a passenger who was initially going to take a seat near his son offered to trade seats with Murdock.
However, he says that a flight attendant told him he couldn’t take the seat because it was an emergency exit row and needed to remain empty. It’s not clear where that other passenger ended up sitting.
However, Murdock says that about a half hour into the flight, the flight attendant let another passenger move to that seat. Murdock is black. The flight attendant and the woman whom she allowed to sit in the seat are white.
Things seem to have gone downhill from there. Later, when the flight attendant was taking the beverage cart down the aisle, she allegedly asked Murdock if he was “going to boycott” beverages. Murdock says he didn’t reply.
At some point, another passenger, who didn’t know Murdock, asked the flight attendant why she was behaving rudely toward him. According to the lawsuit, in which this other passenger is also a plaintiff, the United employee yelled at her to mind her own business. She also allegedly tried to take the woman’s phone because she was recording her — or at least the flight attendant believed she was.
Both Murdock and that passenger, who is also black, were escorted by security officers from the plane when it landed and questioned by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents. Neither of them was charged with any offense.
The 50-year-old former basketball player asserts that the United employee was “race-baiting.” United says it can’t publicly comment on the suit, but is investigating the allegations. In a statement, the airline said that it has “zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.”
As we discussed in a recent post, businesses are responsible for their employees’ actions (and alleged actions) — whether anyone in charge witnessed them or had a role in them or not. If you’re facing a lawsuit involving discrimination, it’s essential to seek experienced legal guidance.