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Former NBA player sues United Airlines for $10 million over alleged in-flight ‘race baiting’

Eric Murdock played for the Los Angeles Clippers in 1999. (Tom Hauck/Allsport) (Tom Hauck//Allsport/Getty Images)
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A former NBA player filed a $10 million lawsuit against United Airlines last week, accusing a flight attendant of “race baiting” when he tried to switch seats on a July 13 flight.

Eric Murdock, a first-round draft pick in 1991 who played for seven teams in the league for nine seasons, was on a flight to Newark Airport with his son after a conference in Las Vegas. The lawsuit, filed last week in federal court in New York, alleges that Murdock, who is black, asked the flight attendant, who is white, whether he could to move to an empty emergency-row seat so that he and his son could sit together. The attendant informed him that those seats cost more but did not say how much.

Just before takeoff, a passenger who was about to take the seat offered it to Murdock, who accepted. However, the flight attendant told him to take his original seat, allegedly saying that the seat had to be empty. Not long afterward, the attendant let a white woman sit in the seat.

Brenda Williams, a passenger who is black and has no relationship to Murdock, asked the attendant why she was being rude, causing the attendant to yell at Williams and tell her to mind her own business. The lawsuit alleges that the attendant accused Williams of recording her with a cellphone, which she tried to take away. “Erase the video now, or give me your phone!” the attendant said, according to the lawsuit obtained by the Daily News. “It’s against the law to record me!”

During beverage service on the flight, the attendant allegedly approached Murdock and asked if he was “going to boycott” drinks and he did not respond. Both Murdock, 50, and Williams were met by security upon landing and were questioned by TSA officials. They were not charged and Williams is a co-plaintiff in the suit.

United spokeswoman Erin Benson told the Daily News last week that the airline was looking into the incident. “At United, we proudly hold ourselves to the highest standards of professionalism and have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind,” she said in a statement before seeing the lawsuit.

“In this divisive time people are emboldened to be the worst version of themselves,” Murdock said in a statement to the Daily News. “I never thought that 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.”

Murdock sued Rutgers in 2013 for wrongful termination after his position as director of basketball player development was not renewed. He accused then-coach Mike Rice of treating players “like slaves” and released practice video to ESPN that showed Rice throwing basketballs at players and berating them with slurs. He reached a $500,000 settlement with the school.

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