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Phoenix Suns team owner Robert Sarver was suspended for one season and fined $10 million following the NBA’s investigation into claims he ran a toxic environment of racism and misogyny.
The NBA said in a statement an independent investigation found 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 initial allegations came to light in an ESPN report last year.
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According to the NBA, the investigation found that Sarver – who is also the team owner of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury – “repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others” at least five times. The NBA said 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.”
He was also found to have treated employees harshly, the league said.
The NBA said its investigation, led by law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. David Anders and Sarah Eddy, included interviews with 320 people, including current and former employees of Sarver’s. More than 80,000 documents and other materials were examined, and Sarver and team officials fully cooperated with the probe.
Even with its findings, the NBA said, “The investigation made no finding that Mr. Sarver’s workplace misconduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus.”
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The NBA said Suns employees engaged in “workplace misconduct” and called the organization’s human resources department was “historically ineffective and not a trusted resource for employees who were subjected to acts of improper workplace conduct.”
“The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “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.
“I am hopeful that the NBA community will use this opportunity to reflect on what this great game means to people everywhere and the values of equality, respect and inclusion that it strives to represent. Regardless of position, power or intent, we all need to recognize the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior. 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 is barred from all NBA and WNBA team facilities and arenas, participating in any league-related events, representing the Suns or Mercury in any fashion or have any business relating toward the teams and the league. He must also complete a workplace conduct training program.
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The allegations against Sarver stemmed from an ESPN report last November. At the time, Sarver denied ever using the N-word.