Phoenix Suns owner suspended, fined $10M for workplace misconduct

FAN Editor

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

The findings of the league’s investigation, published Tuesday, came nearly a year after the NBA asked a law firm to investigate allegations that Sarver had a history of racist, misogynistic and hostile incidents over his nearly two-decade tenure overseeing the franchise.

The report based its findings on interviews with 320 people, including current and former employees who worked for both teams while Sarver was managing partner, as well as more than 80,000 documents and materials such as emails, text messages and videos, the NBA said in a statement on Tuesday.

In its statement, the NBA, citing a portion of the report, noted that Sarver “engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards, as reflected in team and League rules and policies.”

“This conduct included the use of racially insensitive language; unequal treatment of female employees; sex-related statements and conduct; and harsh treatment of employees that on occasion constituted bullying,” it continued.

Robert Sarver
Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver on Oct. 13, 2021. Christian Petersen / Getty

The allegations against Sarver were first reported by ESPN in November 2021 after the network said it talked to dozens of current and former team employees for its story, including some who detailed inappropriate behavior by Sarver. He originally denied or disputed most of the allegations through his legal team.

On Tuesday, the NBA said Sarver cannot 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 league said it would donate the $10 million fine — the maximum fine allowed by NBA rule — “to organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace.”

“The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “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.”

Sarver also will have to complete a training program “focused on respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace” during his suspension, the NBA said.

The league will 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.”

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.

All those conditions will be in place for three years.

Sarver and the Suns and Mercury “cooperated fully with the investigative process,” the league said.

“Regardless of position, power or intent, we all need to recognize the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior,” Silver said. “On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologize to all of those impacted by the misconduct outlined in the investigators’ report. We must do better.”

In a statement, the Suns Legacy Partners, which manages and operates the Suns and Mercury, wrote that it is committed to creating “a safe, respectful and inclusive work environment.” It said many of the issues the reports found within the organization were historical and have been addressed in recent years.

“We nevertheless take the NBA’s findings and will implement the workspace improvements the NBA has identified, to the extent that we have not yet done so,” the statement read.

“We are proud of the progress we’ve already made, and, moving forward, our organization will continue to build a best-in-class workplace,” the statement concluded.

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