Robert Sarwar, owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix MercuryThe Sons franchise has been suspended for one year by the NBA and fined $10 million as a result of an investigation into the franchise.
Announcing the sentence Tuesday, the NBA said the investigation found that during his time with Sun and Mercury, Sarwar used the n-word at least five times “while recounting the statements of others.”
The NBA said in its statement that there were also “instances of disproportionate conduct toward female employees,” including “sex-related comments” and inappropriate comments on staff appearance.
The NBA launched an investigation in November 2021 after ESPN published a story detailing allegations of racism and misogyny during Sarwar’s 17 years as owner.
While the NBA said that Sarwar “cooperated fully with the investigation process,” league sources told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Adrian Wojnarowski that he was rejecting the idea that he could be serving a one-year suspension for his behavior. and was entitled to a fine of $10 million. Sources said that the punitive part of the process turned out to be quite acrimonious.
The investigation, led by New York-based law firm Wachtel Lipton, found that Sarver “engaged in conduct that clearly violated general workplace standards, as reflected in team and league rules and policies.”
“While I disagree with some of the details of the NBA’s report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our staff,” Sarwar said in a statement via Sons. “I take full responsibility for what I have done. I am sorry for the pain, and these errors in judgment are not in line with my personal philosophy or my values.
“I accept the consequences of the NBA’s decision. This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate my ability to learn and grow as we continue to build a work culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued.”
The investigation involved interviews with more than 320 current and former employees, as well as Sarwar, the NBA announced. It also examined more than 80,000 documents and other materials including emails, text messages and videos. report was made publicly available online,
During Sarwar’s tenure, the investigation found that he:
On at least five occasions “repeated the n-word while repeating the statements of others.”
“Indulged in cases of unjust conduct toward female employees, made multiple sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women, and inappropriate physical behavior toward male employees on multiple occasions “
“Engaged in humiliating and treating employees harshly, including yelling and cursing at them.”
The release said the investigation “revealed no evidence that Mr. Sarwar’s workplace abuse was motivated by racial or gender-based hostility.”
Those sources said Sun gave him access to human resources records and thousands of internal emails. Experts from London-headquartered global accounting firm Deloitte and Chicago-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis were also involved in the investigation.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in the statement, “The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are disturbing and disappointing. We believe the results are accurate, taking into account all the facts, circumstances and context.” . Our commitment to extensive scrutiny over this 18-year period and to maintaining fair standards in NBA workplaces.”
Silver continued, “I hope the NBA community will use this opportunity to reflect on what this great sport means to people everywhere and strive to represent the values of equality, respect and inclusion.” We all need to recognize the corrosive and harmful effects of racially insensitive and abusive language and behavior, regardless of status, strength or intent. On behalf of the entire NBA, I am all affected by the misconduct outlined in the investigators’ report I apologize to the people. We should do better.”
The $10 million fine is the maximum allowed by the NBA, and the money will be “donated to organizations addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace.”
During his suspension, Sarwar cannot:
“Be present at any NBA or WNBA team facility, including any office, field, or practice facility.”
Participate in or participate in any NBA or WNBA event or activity, including sports, rehearsals, or business partner activity.
“Represent the Sun or Mercury in any public or private capacity.”
“Has any involvement in the business or basketball operations of Sun or Mercury.”
“Have any involvement in the business, governance or activities of the NBA or the WNBA, including attending or participating in the meetings of the Board of the League (and their affiliated board committees).”
Sarwar must also complete a training program focused on respect and proper conduct in the workplace.
The Sons and Mercury organization must also meet a series of requirements for workplace improvement to be determined and monitored by the NBA. These requirements include:
“Maintaining an outside firm to make evaluations and recommendations regarding workplace training programs, policies and procedures, and recruitment and compensation practices, with a focus on promoting a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace.”
“Carrying out regular and anonymous workplace culture surveys and responding to survey results with specific action plans.”
“Promptly reporting to the League any cases or allegations of material misconduct by any employee.”
“To provide the League with, for a period of three years, regular reports relating to the steps taken by the Organization to meet these requirements.”
“Following league direction to troubleshoot/improve workplace issues if/as they arise.”
In interviews with Wachtel Lipton lawyers, some of whom were conducted in person, over the phone and via videoconferencing, Sun employees confirmed several of the allegations published in ESPN’s November story, introducing others and including email. documents provided.
The investigation also documented “instances of workplace misconduct committed by Sunus employees that were not directly related to Sarwar and lacked appropriate organizational policies and controls.” It found examples of “racial insensitivity, abuse of female employees, inappropriate remarks related to sex or sexual orientation, and abusive communication”.
It also found that the team’s human resources department was “historically ineffective and not a reliable resource for employees who were subject to acts of inappropriate workplace conduct.”
The league’s investigation was the third of its kind focused on the team’s owner since Adam Silver became NBA commissioner in 2014 – all three cases were led by Wachtel Lipton.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski contributed to this report.