SANTA ANA, Calif.--The Spanish radio voice of the Los Angeles Lakers has filed a lawsuit against the team and its broadcast partner, Time Warner Cable, that alleges 17 years of discrimination based on race and age.
The Lakers refuted the claims of Fernando Gonzalez, a Mexican-American who has worked for the team since 1996, saying in a statement, "We do not believe these allegations have any merit."
Gonzalez, who has called Lakers games on the radio for 17 seasons alongside partner Pepe Mantilla, is seeking $1 million in damages for discrimination claims that range from not receiving the same in-arena recognition as English broadcasters to never being granted a one-on-one interview with star Kobe Bryant, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The suit was first obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
The suit alleges that Gonzalez, 53, was passed over for a more lucrative position in 2011 when the Lakers entered a 20-year, $3 billion partnership with TWC, establishing both English and Spanish television homes for the team. Adrian Marquez and Francisco Pinto were hired to be the on-air team on TWC Deportes, although the pair "are less than 40 years of age and have little or no experience in basketball."
The advent of TWC Deportes "signaled the Lakers' intention to begin putting (Gonzalez) out to pasture," the lawsuit states.
After cutting Gonzalez's workload in half, network officials did not give Gonzalez additional, promised on-air assignments to negate the loss in compensation, according to the lawsuit. As a result, the suit claims, Gonzalez lost roughly $30,000 in earnings.
Tim Harris, the Lakers' senior vice president for business operations and Gonzalez's immediate supervisor, was named in the suit, as were Pablo Urquiza, TWC Vice President of Programming, and Mark Shuken, senior vice president and general manager for TWC Sports Regional Networks.
The suit alleges a string of instances in which the Spanish broadcast team of Gonzalez and Mantilla was treated differently from the English broadcast team, including not traveling to road games.
After the Lakers won the 2000 NBA championship, the suit alleges, Gonzalez and Mantilla were told they would have to pay $3,000 for their commemorative championship rings, while other employees received the rings for free. According to the lawsuit, the Spanish broadcasters were eventually refunded their money after Gonzalez complained to legendary announcer Chick Hearn.
In their statement, the Lakers responded with the fact that a majority of their broadcasters are minorities, including radio analyst Mychal Thompson and TV analyst Stu Lantz. The team also stated that 20 years ago it was the first in the NBA to have a full-time Spanish radio broadcast and that with TWC Deportes the Lakers became the first team to have a separate TV broadcast network to televise games in Spanish.
"Although these initiatives have financially been minimally profitable to us," the statement read, "we feel they've been extremely successful to us in terms of providing a desired and needed service to a large part of our fan base. The Los Angeles Lakers appreciate and respect the diverse makeup of our workforce and are committed to providing an environment free of harassment and discrimination and in accordance with the law."
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