Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver fined $10M after investigation into hostile work environment

The NBA has fined Phoenix Suns and Mercury managing partner Robert Sarver $10 million and suspended him for a year after an independent investigation found he engaged in hostile, racially insensitive and inappropriate behavior.

The report, commissioned by the NBA last fall, found Sarver had “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 NBA released the report, conducted by a New York law firm, on Tuesday. The investigation came after an ESPN.com report about Sarver’s behavior.

Part of the findings found Sarver had “on at least five occasions during his tenure with the Suns/Mercury organization, repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others.” He also “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.”

Sarver, who has been the Suns’ and Mercury’s majority owner since 2004, cannot have any involvement with the team during the yearlong suspension and must complete a workplace training program. The $10 million fine is the maximum allowed as determined by the NBA by-laws.

According to the NBA, 320 current and former employees who worked for Sarver were interviewed.

The NBA said Sarver and the Suns and Mercury organizations cooperated with the investigation.

“Regardless of position, power or intent, we all need to recognize the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver stated Tuesday, “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.”

Sarver responded to the report Tuesday by accepting the NBA’s decision and apologizing.

“Good leadership requires accountability. For the Suns and Mercury organizations, that begins with me,” he said in part. “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.”

Suns Legacy Partners, which manages and operates the Suns and Mercury, said it is continuing to improve its workplace.

“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,” it said in a statement.

“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.”

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