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Racism claims against Clippers owner Donald Sterling: This isn't the first time

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 6:36 PM EDT, Mon April 28, 2014
  • NEW: Abdul-Jabbar: "Actions speak louder than words, and Mr. Sterling's actions have been consistent"
  • Court documents detail past discrimination claims against L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling
  • In a 2009 settlement, Sterling agreed to pay nearly $3 million but denied accusations
  • Sterling has repeatedly denied allegations of race discrimination

(CNN) -- This isn't the first time Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling has faced allegations that he's racist.

Audio recordings from a conversation full of racist comments attributed to Sterling surfaced over the weekend, bringing national attention to him and his team.

But the billionaire real estate mogul has found himself in hot water in the past, denying in court accusations of discrimination tied to the NBA team and to property he owns.

A top team executive accused Sterling of running the Clippers with a "plantation" mentality. Federal prosecutors accused his rental company of refusing to lease Beverly Hills apartments to African-Americans. And a group of tenants accused him of "numerous discriminatory statements and housing practices."

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"Actions speak louder than words, and Mr. Sterling's actions have been consistent," former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper" on Monday.

Abdul-Jabbar, who coached the Clippers for about three months in 2000, said Sterling has "a bad reputation."

"I'm not surprised by this very much," he said, "and that's really the most unfortunate part of this."

Sterling, who has not publicly commented about the recordings, has owned the team for more than three decades. Clippers President Andy Roeser said Sunday that Sterling is upset and "emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect, his views, beliefs or feelings."

Here's a look at what court documents reveal about several claims made against Sterling in the past:

2009: Clippers' former general manager files a wrongful termination lawsuit

Elgin Baylor, who was executive vice president and general manager of the Clippers from 1986 to 2008, filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination against Sterling in 2009, saying that the team's owner underpaid him and treated him "as a token because of his race."

Baylor, who is African-American and an 11-time NBA All-Star, said Sterling wouldn't let him negotiate players' salaries and had a vision of a "Southern Plantation type structure" for the team.

Sterling, according to Baylor's complaint, told Baylor repeatedly that he "wanted the CLIPPERS team to be composed of 'Poor Black boys from the South' and a White head coach."

The lawsuit also accuses Sterling of ageism and alleges that Sterling harassed him by making demeaning comments about his age.

Sterling denied those accusations and said the team acted within its rights and "for good cause and not for any improper reason."

Before the case went to trial, Baylor dropped the racial discrimination claim but maintained accusations of age discrimination. A jury sided with Sterling in 2011.

At the time, the jury's foreman said jurors believed Baylor was fired because the "team hadn't been performing," according to the Los Angeles Times.

2006: Justice Department accuses Sterling of housing discrimination

A Justice Department lawsuit filed in 2006 accused Sterling's rental company of refusing to lease Beverly Hills apartments to African-Americans, refusing to rent to non-Koreans in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles County and turning away families with children from its properties.

That case was settled in 2009, with Sterling agreeing to pay nearly $3 million but continuing to deny the accusations.

"The magnitude of this settlement should send a message to all landlords that we will vigorously pursue violations of the Fair Housing Act," Thomas E. Perez, then head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said at the time.

Robert Platt, a lawyer for the Sterling Family Trust, said at the time that the settlement includes no admission of liability and the government "could not identify a single individual who was wrongfully denied the right to rent an apartment from the trust." He said the company had a "zero-tolerance" policy regarding discrimination.

"My clients vehemently and unequivocally deny that anyone was discriminated against," Platt said in a written statement on the settlement. "Nevertheless, the insurance companies for the trust decided to settle the case because the cost of continued litigation far exceeded the cost of settlement."

2003: Tenants, nonprofit allege housing discrimination

The nonprofit Housing Rights Center and a group of tenants who lived in Sterling's properties filed a federal lawsuit in 2003 against Sterling, accusing him of "numerous discriminatory statements and housing practices," according to court documents.

Court documents allege that Sterling told building staff that he did not like Hispanic or African-American tenants and that he preferred Korean-American tenants and made "disparaging comments" about African-American and Hispanic tenants. They also allege that Sterling's company refused to accept rent from African-American and Latino tenants -- then later attempted "to use the tenants' supposed failure to pay rent as a basis for eviction." And they claim that African-American and Latino tenants were asked to sign in as visitors at apartment buildings where they had long lived.

Sterling, according to court documents, "vehemently denied" the allegations and accused the plaintiffs of "being unreliable tenants and for being driven by hidden agendas."

The case was dismissed in 2005 after a settlement was reached. Details of the deal were not disclosed. According to court documents, a judge ordered Sterling to pay nearly $5 million in attorney's fees to the plaintiffs.

CNN's Caitlin Stark contributed to this report.

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