Suns Employee Resigned After Alleged Retaliation Over Reporting Misogynistic Culture

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJune 14, 2022

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A Phoenix Suns employee resigned and said she was "the target of bullying and retaliation by superiors after raising concerns about gender equity and misconduct within the organization," according to ESPN's Baxter Holmes.

The report comes as the NBA continues to investigate Suns team governor Robert Sarver and the workplace culture inside the team's offices.

Holmes shared a statement from the organization:

"We have been made aware of allegations by a former employee and are investigating them, consistent with our Respect in the Workplace Policy. The Phoenix Suns are committed to creating a safe, respectful, and inclusive work environment free of discrimination and harassment, and we do not tolerate retaliation for the reporting of alleged misconduct."

Melissa Fender Panagiotakopoulos, who started working for the Suns in August 2007, wrote an email to Sarver and 15 other team governorship members to announce her resignation, per Holmes. Panagiotakopoulos laid out what she believed were issues within the organization, which she said has "never been more dysfunctional, and the culture is rapidly eroding."

Before that, Panagiotakopoulos penned a memo to the Suns' human resources department last November, saying her employer "does not place the same value on developing women in its workforce, or even on ensuring they are treated equally as compared to their male counterparts."

She said in her email that the memo resulted in "consistent retaliation and bullying by my direct leadership."

Holmes first reported on the Suns' workplace culture on Nov. 4, 2021. He interviewed 70 current and former Suns employees whose tenures overlapped with Sarver's governorship, and they "describe[d] a toxic and sometimes hostile workplace under [him]":

"Some told ESPN that he has used racially insensitive language repeatedly in the office. Employees recounted conduct they felt was inappropriate and misogynistic, including Sarver once passing around a picture of his wife in a bikini to employees and speaking about times his wife performed oral sex on him. Some said the longtime owner fostered an environment in which employees felt they were his property, even once asking one woman whether he "owned" her to determine whether she worked for the Suns."

Sarver had issued a statement in advance of the story, saying he was "wholly shocked by some of the allegations purported by ESPN about me."

Phoenix Suns @Suns

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Days later, Holmes reported three former Suns employees reached out to say they received messages from Sarver's wife, Penny, that they viewed as "an attempt to intimidate them."

The NBA announced last November it was soliciting the services of the Wachtell Lipton law firm to investigate the allegations laid out in Holmes' first report.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill on June 8 that there was nothing in the way of updates regarding the investigation but added it was nearing an end.

"There's no question about it. It's a complex investigation," Silver said. "There are hundreds of people who are involved and need to be interviewed. And we also want to make sure we protect the rights of everyone involved.

"So these things by nature, I know what frustrates people, do seem to take a lot of time, but we're certainly getting very close to the end."