NBA suspends Suns
owner Sarver, hands $10M fine after racism probe

LOS ANGELES (Agencies): The NBA suspended Phoenix Suns managing partner Robert Sarver for one year and fined him $10 million on Tuesday for creating a toxic work environment.

The league launched an independent investigation last November following an ESPN report alleging racist and sexist remarks made by Sarver during the 18 years he has owned the franchise.

The law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz interviewed 320 people, including current and former employees who worked for Sarver with the Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. The firm evaluated more than 80,000 documents and other materials, including emails, text messages and videos.

The report released Tuesday found that Sarver, who cooperated fully with the investigation, “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.” Specifically, the report said Sarver used the “N-word” on at least five occasions, sexually harassed female employees, and yelled and cursed at workers.

Sarver, 60, takes responsibility for his actions, according to a statement released by Suns Legacy Partners LLC, the entity that manages and operates the Suns and Mercury. “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,” read the statement.

Other Suns employees also engaged in workplace misconduct, with the report calling the team’s human resources department “historically ineffective and not a trusted resource” for employees. During his one-year suspension, Sarver is not allowed to attend games or practices or be present at any NBA or WNBA offices, arenas or practice facilities. He cannot have any involvement with the teams’ business or basketball operations and cannot participate in either league’s board meetings.

Sarver also must complete a training program focused on respect and appropriate workplace conduct. His $10 million fine, the maximum allowed by the NBA’s constitution and by-laws, will be donated to organizations committed to addressing race- and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace.

Sarver became the Suns’ and Mercury’s majority owner in 2004. The Arizona native made his fortune in banking and real estate.