Former NBA player sues United Airlines for $10 million over 'race-baiting' incident

Yahoo Sports
Former NBA player Eric Murdock won a wrongful termination lawsuit against Rutgers University in 2016. (AP)
Former NBA player Eric Murdock won a wrongful termination lawsuit against Rutgers University in 2016. (AP)

Former NBA player Eric Murdock has filed a $10 million lawsuit against United Airlines that alleges a flight attendant “race-baited” him during a dispute over an open seat, according to multiple reports.

Murdock’s lawsuit details the alleged incident

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According to the lawsuit, first reported by the New York Daily News and later outlined by USA Today, Murdock, 50, asked to sit in the open exit row behind him with his son, who was seated in another row on the same flight home to New Jersey from Las Vegas this past July. The unnamed flight attendant, a white woman, allegedly denied his request, telling him the seats cost an unspecified premium price.

When a passenger ticketed for the exit row arrived and offered to switch seats with Murdock, the flight attendant again denied him, the lawsuit said. Then, when a white woman sat in the remaining open exit row seat later in the flight, the attendant allegedly did nothing, offering her a beverage instead.

When the flight attendant offered Murdock’s row service, she asked him if he was “going to boycott” his beverage — an “obvious” example of “race-baiting,” the lawsuit said, via the New York Post.

A second passenger joined Murdock’s lawsuit

When another passenger, Brenda Williams, who is also black and has joined the lawsuit as a co-plaintiff, confronted the flight attendant about her mistreatment of Murdock, the attendant allegedly screamed at Williams, demanded she stop recording the incident and tried to take away her phone, warning of police action. Williams denied recording the altercation, according to the lawsuit.

In front of a number of Murdock’s colleagues and fellow former professional athletes, four armed TSA employees removed Murdock and Williams from the plane upon its arrival in Newark. The two co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who were strangers prior to the incident, were interviewed and released.

Murdock vows to fight for social change

Murdock, who made roughly $11 million while playing for seven different teams over a nine-year NBA career, filed the lawsuit against United Airlines in New York Eastern District Court on Nov. 27. He previously won a $500,000 wrongful termination lawsuit when Rutgers University did not renew his assistant coaching contract in 2012, when he alerted ESPN of an abuse scandal that rocked the college.

The $10 million lawsuit against United Airlines is not about the money, suggested Murdock.

“In this divisive time people are emboldened to be the worst version of themselves,” he told the New York Daily News in a statement. “I never thought I would personally be in this position, but neither will I back down. If I can use the fame and respect which I have gained to achieve social change I will.”

A brief history of recent United Airlines lawsuits

United Airlines declined comment to USA Today on their internal investigation into the incident concerning Murdock, only saying through a spokesman, “At United, we proudly hold ourselves to the highest standards of professionalism and have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.”

United Airlines has been the subject of a string of recent lawsuits, including multiple cases of alleged passenger abuse. United reached a settlement for undisclosed terms last year with an Asian-American passenger who was forcibly dragged off a plane to open a seat for an airline employee. The company reportedly instituted a series of new policies as a result and vowed to improve its customer service.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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