PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver has been suspended for one year by the NBA after an investigation into misconduct.
During their investigation which stemmed from an ESPN report in November 2021, the NBA found 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.”
The original report says ESPN talked to more than 70 people who worked in the organization, who painted a picture of a hostile work environment. Sarver allegedly used racially insensitive language including the "n-word", and the article included references to instances of misogyny, and situations when employees felt cornered and belittled.
Among the key findings of the NBA's subsequent report:
"Mr. Sarver on at least five occasions during his tenure with the Suns/Mercury organization repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others. Mr. Sarver engaged in instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees, made many sex-related comments in the workplace made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women and on several occasions engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees. Mr. Sarver engaged in demeaning and harsh treatment of employees including by yelling and cursing at them."
The NBA today issued the following statement: pic.twitter.com/jjlBK771PT— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) September 13, 2022
A statement from the NBA says Sarver’s suspension means he can not:
“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.
Have any involvement with the business or basketball operations of the Suns or Mercury.
Have any involvement in the business governance or activities of either the NBA or WNBA, including attending or participating in meetings of either league's Board (and their associated Board committees)”
Sarver is also fined $10 million. The NBA says they will "donate these funds 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.”
Read the full report on Sarver online here.
The Suns sent the following statement attributed to Robert Sarver:
Good leadership requires accountability. For the Suns and Mercury organizations, that begins with me. While I disagree with some of the particulars of the NBA’s report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees. I take full responsibility for what I have done. I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values.
I accept the consequences of the NBA’s decision. This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate a capacity to learn and grow as we continue to build a working culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued.
I am extraordinarily proud of the Suns and Mercury organizations and the record we have built concerning diversity, inclusion, and giving back to the community. It means a great deal to me that our dedicated and hardworking employees have made Phoenix a basketball destination – for both players and fans.
The Suns also released the following statement from Suns Legacy Partners, LLC, the sports and entertainment entity that manages and operates the Suns and Mercury:
"Suns Legacy Partners is committed to creating a safe, respectful, and inclusive work environment that is free of discrimination and harassment. As the NBA acknowledged, we fully cooperated with the NBA's investigation, which covered an eighteen-year period, including by encouraging current and former employees to participate.
The NBA's findings concerning the organization focus, for the most part, on historical matters that have been addressed in recent years, including through meaningful enhancements to our workplace compliance program.
At the direction of senior leadership, we have strengthened our culture and focused on creating a workplace where everyone feels included and valued. These efforts include hiring new HR leadership, updating our employee handbook to clearly define our expectations for appropriate workplace behavior, adopting a strong code of conduct, instituting robust processes to report misconduct, and holding trainings on respect in the workplace and our corresponding policies and procedures. We nevertheless take seriously the NBA's findings and will implement the workplace improvements the NBA has identified, to the extent that we have not yet done so.
Robert Sarver is also taking responsibility for his actions. He recognizes that at times during his eighteen years of ownership, his conduct did not reflect his, or the Suns' values, and was inconsistent with the advancements the management team has taken with Robert's full support.
We are proud of the progress we've already made, and moving forward, our organization will continue to build a best-in-class workplace."