NBA owner suspended, fined for workplace misconduct

Investigation found exec used racist, misogynistic language

NBA owner suspended, fined for workplace misconduct

The NBA has suspended Robert Sarver, owner of the Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, for one year and has fined him $10 million after an investigation found that he had engaged in “workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies.”

The results of the investigation come nearly a year after allegations that Sarver had a history of racist, misogynistic and hostile incidents over his nearly two-decade tenure overseeing the franchise, The Associated Press reported.

Sarver “repeated or purported to repeat the N-word on at least five occasions spanning his tenure with the Suns,” according to the report. Sarver also reportedly used demeaning language toward female employees, including telling a pregnant employee that she wouldn’t be able to do her job after becoming a mother.

Read more: #MeToo’s impact on sexual harassment in the workplace

The investigation also found that Sarver exposed himself unnecessarily to a male Suns employee during a fitness check and caused another male employee to become uncomfortable by grabbing him and dancing “pelvis to pelvis” at a holiday party. Sarver also reportedly made comments about female employees and asked a female Suns employee if she had undergone breast augmentation.

Additionally, the report found Sarver yelled and cursed at employees in ways unacceptable “under workplace standards.”

“The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “We believe the outcome is the right one, taking into account all the facts, circumstances and context brought to light by the comprehensive investigation of this 18-year period and our commitment to upholding proper standards in NBA workplaces.”

During the suspension, Sarver can’t be present at any NBA or WNBA team facility, including any office, arena or practice facility; attend or participate in any NBA or WNBA event or activity, including games, practices or business partner activity; represent the Suns or Mercury in any public or private capacity; or have any involvement with the business or basketball operations of the Suns or Mercury.

The NBA said it would donate the $10 million “to organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace.” Sarver will have to complete a training program “focused on respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace” during his suspension, the league said.

The NBA will also require the Suns and Mercury to engage in a series of workplace improvements, including retaining outside firms that will “focus on fostering a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace.” For the next three years, employees of those organizations will be surveyed, anonymously and regularly, to ensure that proper workplace culture is in place. The NBA and WNBA will need to be told immediately of any instances, or even allegations, of significant misconduct by any employees, the league said.

Sarver, through his attorney, denied the allegations as recently as June in a letter to the league, insisting the claims against him were “demonstrably false,” The Associated Press reported. His attorney Thomas Clare wrote that Sarver's record shows a “longstanding commitment to social and racial justice” and that it attests to his “commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The league said the results of the investigation were based on 320 individuals, including current and former employees who worked for the teams during Sarver's 18 years with the Suns, and from the evaluation of more than 80,000 documents and other materials, including emails, text messages and videos.

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