The Phoenix Suns organization faced new allegations in a bombshell ESPN report on Monday as executives up and down the hierarchy were accused of taking part in the alleged toxic culture.
The report came months after Robert Sarver agreed to begin “the process of seeking buyers” for the Suns after an NBA investigation found that the team owner used the N-word on at least five occasions and made “many sex-related comments” to employees . The NBA suspended him for a year and fined him $10 million.
The new report suggested Sarver wasn’t the only one who was allegedly taking part in the negative atmosphere surrounding the organization. Jason Rowley, the Suns president and CEO who joined the organization in 2007 and later became chief operating officer in 2011, was among those who faced allegations in the report. Suns officials cannot be fired from their posts unless Sarver gives the approval, ESPN reported.
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Rowley faced multiple accusations of improper treatment towards female employees. He was accused of cursing at a pregnant woman and firing the same woman after she returned from maternity leave. He was also accused of largely overreacting to minor problems like a scheduling mistake with a restaurant to allegedly encouraging a security manager to fire the employee who stopped Rowley’s wife from entering a security area.
Melissa Goldenberg, a general counsel, reportedly told another pregnant employee “that the team didn’t have a formal maternity leave policy because ‘Robert doesn’t believe in one.'” Sarver denied that notion to ESPN.
A female Suns employee also alleged she was groped by a sponsor representative in 2019 when the team was playing in Mexico City. The representative also reportedly apologized for the incident, including texting the employee his hotel room number and photos of the room.
The Suns pushed back on the report in a statement.
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“In September, at the conclusion of a full investigation, the NBA and an outside firm issued a comprehensive report on the workplace culture of Suns Legacy Partners, and we continue to do the work of using the report’s findings to grow and improve. We will continue to be accountable to our staff, partners, fans, players and the NBA, as we follow the NBA’s guidelines around workplace culture, including the creation of confidential, safe channels to anonymously report any issues. As we have said before, we are on a journey that began before last November, one that has included substantive changes to leadership, staff, policies and accountability measures,” the team said.
“At the beginning of this process, we encouraged all of our employees to participate in interviews for the NBA’s outside investigation and we have investigated issues raised within that report. We continue to encourage employees to utilize internal channels to report issues as they arise. To create a safe space for employee feedback and an environment of accountability, we fact-find related to each complaint on its merits. We will continue to keep any such investigations and their findings internal and confidential.
“As we told the reporter of today’s story in reviewing his questions, there are factual inaccuracies not supported by the findings of already-completed internal or external investigations, including incorrect attribution of confidential claims made as part of the NBA investigation. That being said, as we move forward, we do so with the knowledge that we have not been a perfect organization. Our current leaders have taken accountability for the claims that have been substantiated through investigations. And all of us continue to be committed to learning, growing and upholding a culture of respect.”
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NBA spokesperson Mike Bass added, “Both the sales process of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury and the review of alleged misconduct by others at the organization are ongoing. That review will remain an internal personnel matter.”