Fernando Gonzalez, a Spanish-language radio broadcaster for the Los Angeles Lakers, recently requested a California appellate court to revive his age discrimination lawsuit against the team. Gonzalez claims the Lakers “denied him a television announcing position because of his race and age.” Although no one major event or action by a Lakers employer stands out, Gonzalez’s claim rests on the “little things that add up” to an atmosphere of racial and age-motivated discrimination.
What is the Age Discrimination in Employment Act?
At the federal level, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) functions to protect those who are at least 40 years of age. It is unlawful for an employer, agency or labor organization to make employment decisions based on age of the potential employee. Additionally, it is unlawful for an employee to decrease the wage of an employee in order to comply with the ADEA. For the most part, this law functions in a very similar manner as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Gonzalez has worked for the Lakers since 1996. In his suit, filed in 2014, Gonzalez alleged that:
from the outset of his employment with the team . . . he had been discriminated against, being paid less than ‘Anglo-American’ announcers, not being shown on the jumbotron before home games like other announcers, and being forced to pay $3,000 for a commemorative championship ring when the team won the title in 2000 – when other announcers received their rings for free.
Although Gonzalez’s $3,000 were eventually returned to him, his claim rests upon a “continuing violation” of his rights through the “little things” like not receiving other commemorative championship rings or season ticket offers. According to Gonzalez, the big moment of discrimination was in 2011 “when TWC signed a 20-year, $3 billion exclusive rights deal with the Lakers” and Gonzalez found out he was passed over for the Spanish-language announcing position on TWC’s Deportes channel for a younger announcer; this channel was specifically created by the $3 billion deal.
Disparate impact age discrimination
Because few employers actually bent on discriminating against employees blatantly announce their acts of discrimination, there exists the “disparate impact age discrimination theory” under Title VII. This theory does not even require an employer to have a discriminatory motive, but that the employer’s practice has a disproportionate impact on a particular gender or racial group. Generally speaking, however, there is hesitancy at the lower courts in upholding the disparate impact theory to ADEA cases due to the Supreme Court’s comment from Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins. In that case, the Supreme Court said that “there are substantial arguments [where] it is improper to carry over disparate impact analysis from Title VII to the ADEA.”
Until the appellate panel responds, the lower court’s ruling barring Gonzalez’s claim under the statute of limitations stands.