NBA releases findings of independent investigation into Robert Sarver, Phoenix Suns
NEW YORK, September 13, 2022 – The NBA today released the following statement:
Following the publication of a November 4, 2021, ESPN.com article regarding the statements and conduct of Robert Sarver, managing partner of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, and issues related to the teams’ workplace, the NBA has commissioned an independent investigation by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. David Anders and Sarah Eddy, partners at the firm, conducted the investigation.
The independent investigation’s report, which was made public today, was based on information gathered from interviews with 320 people, including current and former employees who worked for the teams during the 18-year tenure. of Mr. Sarver as managing partner, Mr. Sarver, and other relevant persons; and the assessment of over 80,000 documents and other media, including emails, text messages and videos. Mr. Sarver and the Suns/Mercury organization cooperated fully with the investigative process.
As stated in the report, the independent investigation found that Mr. Sarver “engaged in behavior that clearly violated common workplace standards, as evidenced by team and League rules and policies. This conduct included the use of racially insensitive language; unequal treatment of female employees; gender-related statements and behavior; and harsh treatment of employees that sometimes amounted to intimidation.
Among the main results:
• 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 unfair conduct towards female employees, made numerous gender-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 towards male employees.
• Mr. Sarver engaged in humiliating and harsh treatment of employees, including shouting and swearing at them.
As noted in the report, Mr. Sarver informed investigators of his personal and professional efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, including hiring practices within the Suns/Mercury organization and its contributions to social and racial justice causes. The investigation did not conclude that Mr. Sarver’s misconduct at work was motivated by racial or gender animosity.
The independent investigation also confirmed instances of workplace misconduct by Suns employees not directly related to Mr. Sarver and a lack of appropriate organizational policies and controls. Among other things, the investigation found instances of racial insensitivity, mistreatment of female employees, inappropriate comments related to gender or sexual orientation, and disrespectful communications. The investigation also found that the Suns human resources function was historically ineffective and not a trusted resource for employees who were victims of acts of inappropriate workplace conduct.
As noted in the report, most of the Suns employees who engaged in these acts of misconduct during the 18-year investigation period are no longer employed by the organization. Additionally, in July 2021, the organization hired a new human resources manager who, along with other executives, has since implemented a series of positive workplace changes. These include an updated respectful workplace policy, creation of a confidential misconduct reporting hotline, a response team to conduct internal investigations , additional workplace training on key policies and a new parental leave policy.
Based on the findings of the independent investigation, including those related to Mr. Sarver’s workplace misconduct and organizational shortcomings, the NBA today took the following action:
• Mr. Sarver is suspended from the Suns/Mercury organization for a period of one year, during which he will not be able to:
- 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 Business Partner games, practices, or activities.
- Represent the Suns or Mercury in any public or private capacity.
- Being involved in the business or basketball activities of the Suns or Mercury.
- Be involved in the business, governance, or operations of the NBA or WNBA, including attending or participating in meetings of either league’s board of directors (and their board committees) associated administration).
• Mr. Sarver must, during his suspension, complete a training program focusing on respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace.
• Mr. Sarver is sentenced to a fine of 10 million dollars, the maximum authorized by the Constitution and the statutes of the NBA. The NBA will donate these funds to organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender issues in and out of the workplace.
• In addition, the Suns/Mercury organization must meet a series of workplace improvement requirements defined and monitored by the NBA. These requirements include, among others:
• Retain the services of an external firm to evaluate and make recommendations regarding workplace training programs, policies and procedures, as well as hiring and compensation practices, with an emphasis on promotion of a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace.
• Conduct regular, anonymous workplace culture surveys and respond to survey results with specific action plans.
• Report immediately to the league any case or allegation of material misconduct by an employee.
• For a period of three years, provide the league with regular reports related to the measures taken by the organization to meet these requirements.
• Follow league guidelines to remedy/improve workplace issues if they arise.
“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, considering all the facts, circumstances and contexts brought to light by the thorough investigation of this 18-year period and our commitment to maintaining appropriate standards in the workplaces of the NBA.
“I hope the NBA community will take this opportunity to reflect on what this great game means to people around the world and the values of equality, respect and inclusion it strives to represent. Regardless position, power or intent, we must all recognize the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologize to all those affected by the misconduct described in the investigators’ report We must do better.
The report of the independent investigation is available here: https://www.wlrk.com/phoenix-suns-report/.