(CN) - The National Basketball Association need not defend its firing of an IT guy who got tossed from a Boston bar after a brawl, a federal judge ruled.
NBA Properties Inc. had sent IT project manager Anthony Ewell in June 2010 from his usual office in Secaucus, N.J., to Boston to help issue press credentials at the NBA Finals.
Ewell said he had gone to a bar on June 9 after finishing work to hear Michael Gliedman, NBA Properties' chief information officer, and his band play.
It was at the next bar, at around 2 a.m., where he had a "debate" with a bartender about his lengthy credit card bill, the complaint states.
Ewell says he was not "overly inebriated" at the time, but that two bouncers nevertheless grabbed his arms, punched him and "assaulted him very severely."
With a "massive amount of blood" flowing from his face after the brutes "knocked [him] out," Ewell then chipped a tooth on the sidewalk he was thrown on to.
NBA Properties says a police officer told some of Ewell's colleagues that if they did not remove him, the officer would do so himself.
Some co-workers then took Ewell to the hospital, and he was released at about 4 a.m.
Ewell says he missed work because he had "wounds all the way around [his] face," so "it wouldn't have been in the best interest to show up in the media trailer" that day.
After phoning Ewell numerous times that morning, his supervisors eventually told him to return to New Jersey, and had a sub replace him in Boston for the rest of the Finals, he claims.
Ewell disputes the claim by NBA Properties that it interviewed 10 witnesses about the bar incident over the next two weeks.
His direct supervisor told him he was being fired on June 24, for engaging in acts the NBA considers "contrary to its interests," in violation of its employee-conduct policy.
Ewell, who is black, claims, however, that the firing was pretextual, saying he worked for NBA Properties for 14 years with positive performance evaluations.
In a 2011 federal complaint against Gliedman and NBA Properties in Newark, the IT specialist alleged discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), and emotional distress.
U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty awarded the defendants summary judgment on March 23, however, finding that "the employer's stated reasons for firing Ewell are plausible, especially coming from an image-conscious organization like the NBA. And the circumstances corroborate NBA Properties' claim that its stated reasons were the real ones."
Ewell's "miscellaneous allegations about discrimination against other employees are scattered, inconclusive, and generally unsupported by testimony from the employees themselves," McNulty wrote.
The proximity between Ewell's firing and the incident also weakens his case, the court found.
Ewell "may believe that the organization was harsh, arbitrary, or even mistaken in dismissing him," McNulty wrote. "He states that the bar altercation was not his fault, and expresses understandable outrage that the bouncers injured him. He may believe that his employer, overly sensitive to bad publicity, would unreasonably have had him pay an inflated bar tab rather than assert his rights. He may believe that his employer should have credited his version of the events, and not drawn adverse inferences from the situation or the statements of other witnesses. Such complaints do not make out a claim under Title VII or the NJLAD."
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