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Sexual harassment at Dallas Mavs went all the way to the top

The sports entertainment industry is a hotbed for sexual harassment. It’s a male-dominated field serving a male-dominated fan base. The most visible women in the field are cheerleaders and sideline reporters, hard-working but highly objectified.

And when upper management turns a blind eye – or when the execs are the worst offenders – the whole organization can be a toxic gauntlet for female employees. An in-depth expose by Sports Illustrated alleges rampant sexual harassment in the Dallas Mavericks organization, starting with egregious misconduct by the longtime former CEO.

 

One employee called it ‘a real life Animal House’

Dozens of former and current employees (men and women) were interviewed in the Sports Illustrated special report. They described widespread sexual misconduct and hostile working environment for anyone who pushed back. Female employees at Dallas Mavericks headquarters and American Airlines Center arena were allegedly subjected to jaw-dropping behavior straight out of a sexual harassment handbook:

  • Overt and repeated sexual advances
  • Hands on thighs and other groping
  • Sexual jokes and graphic comments
  • Male colleagues openly watching pornography at work
  • Actual and implied threats of retaliation

Many women noted that it was men in the corporate offices – not athletes or coaches – who were doing the harassing. One said the players’ locker room was actually her refuge from the barrage of mistreatment.

‘Don’t get on an elevator alone with him’

The boss was the worst offender of all, according to the SI report. Former CEO Terdema Ussery left the Mavs in 2015. But over his 17-year career with the team, he had a reputation as a lecherous and shameless serial harasser. He was investigated for sexual harassment in 1998 after women complained, but kept his job – and got a contract extension.

Current and former employees corroborated stories of sexual propositions, crude sexual language and other nasty behavior by Ussery. One woman, expecting to be congratulated on landing a position with the Mavericks, was warned “Whatever you do, don’t get trapped on an elevator with him.” Good advice. Userry was terminated from his next job at Under Armour after an employee said he made sexual overtures – on an elevator.

Human resources and supervisors did not do their job

The SI report also came down hard on the Mav’s director of human resources, Buddy Pittman. He was depicted as an enabler who was well aware of Ussery’s outrageous behavior but failed to do anything about it.

In general, said those quoted in the story, sexual harassment allegations were not taken seriously. One woman said she reported Ussery multiple times directly to Pittman. Another woman who tried to report Ussery’s misconduct was taken aside by her supervisor and told she would be fired if she didn’t (a) keep quiet and (b) take the abuse.

They felt their only option was to leave

Numerous women ultimately left the Mavericks organization rather than file formal sexual harassment complaints. Some have left the sports industry altogether. “You don’t feel safe going to work and it’s not long before you look for another job,” one ex-employee told SI.

What did ownership know?

Mavs owner Mark Cuban expressed dismay and vowed action. He fired Pittman (the HR executive) as well as a high-profile writer/producer who had kept his job despite a conviction for beating one girlfriend and later assaulting a female colleague he was dating.

But for an owner who prides himself on having his finger on the pulse of his team and his organization, it strains credibility when Cuban says he had no knowledge of the sexual harassment allegations. Stay tuned.

What do you do if management won’t listen?

One employee said it became clear that Ussery would not be fired or held accountable. “I felt trapped, frozen, scared,” she said. What do you do when you hit a dead end reporting sexual harassment through the appropriate channels. You contact an employment law attorney who can explain your legal remedies and how to document (a) the misconduct and (b) the company’s response (including retaliation).

Taking legal action is scary. But if you are trapped in a job where you don’t feel safe or if you had to leave because it was too toxic, you may have grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit. If the employer will not do the right thing, then maybe the California Department of Employment and Fair House or a jury will.

 

 

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