Storyline: Mavericks Harassment Claims

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The investigation into the Mavericks’ front-office scandal remains in idle, awaiting input and possible sanctions from the NBA as well as ensuring that details in the investigators’ report are double-checked, sources said Monday. The hope is that the results can be made public next week. But there is no firm timetable. Punishment from the NBA is likely, although in the last six months, the Mavericks have worked feverishly under new CEO Cynt Marshall to make changes not only to the culture in the front office, but many high-ranking positions. Could that serve as a mitigating factor with the NBA?

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This pattern of behavior, described by seven current and former Mavericks employees who spoke to The Dallas Morning News on the condition of anonymity, continued for six years despite a warning from owner Mark Cuban that he stop viewing pornography on his office computer. The senior account executive, who worked for the Mavericks for 15 years, was one of the central figures who helped cultivate a sexually charged work environment in the NBA franchise’s corporate office, according to the current and former employees interviewed by The News.

Melissa Weishaupt: I am using my name because I am convinced that Cuban still doesn’t recognize the culture he’s helped create or the plight of the women who still work for him. From where I sit, Mark’s response was to rush in like some white knight in a T-shirt and jeans and yell, Don’t worry, ladies of the Mavs, I will help you with paid counseling and a hotline you can call! Now you want to help? We are not fragile flowers. We don’t long for counseling. (As for that hotline: I’ve spoken with a dozen current and former team employees; we have no idea what this is or how to find it.) We want equitable pay. We need to be treated with respect. When deserved, we ought to be given the same promotions as our male counterparts.

Melissa Weishaupt: I’m using my name because I know that the human resources department is not always a safe haven. At the Mavericks—and I’m sure elsewhere—HR was there to protect management, not employees. Many workers, especially middle-class and minority workers do not have a voice or an advocate at their jobs. They should chronicle what happens around them, find a support group outside of work. But they should be cautious in dealing with HR. Yes, I was harassed while I worked for the Mavericks. But I am using my name now because I will never say that I am a victim. I am tougher. I am wiser. I am my own advocate.

Carlisle made it clear that he believes Cuban was dealt a low blow after a story this week detailed a sexual assault claim seven years ago that police ultimately dismissed as unfounded. The report surfaced in the wake of the franchise’s front-office scandal. “Very sad,” Carlisle said after practice. “And I view that situation as a baseless and journalistically unethical rehashing of a proven non-event. That’s what that is. “Have you ever heard the term fake news? This is the most insidious form.”

In May 2011, a woman contacted the Portland Police Bureau to make an allegation against Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and one of the most visible figures in entertainment and sports. Her complaint? That Cuban had sexually assaulted her late one night at an Old Town nightclub. The woman told police she encountered Cuban in late April at the Barrel Room, at 105 NW 3rd Ave., and asked him to pose with her for a photograph. While they smiled for the camera, she claimed, he thrust his hand down the back of her jeans and penetrated her vagina with his finger.

The woman, whom WW is not naming because she’s the alleged victim of sexual assault, agreed to a brief interview after WW obtained the police report and contacted her. She says she never contacted the media or sought publicity or compensation from Cuban and has put the incident behind her. “I really left it in the past,” she says. “I haven’t thought about it for seven years.” Now married and in her mid-30s, the woman works in the medical field and enjoys hiking with her yellow Lab. “I have a wonderful life,” she says. “I’m a happy person.” But she’s sticking to her story. “I filed the report because what he did was wrong,” she adds. “I stand behind that report 1,000 percent.”

Cuban’s attorney, Stephen Houze, strongly denies the allegations against Cuban: “These allegations are thoroughly investigated by the Multnomah County District’s Attorney’s Office and the Portland Police Bureau,” Houze said in a statement. “According to the detailed prosecution decline memo, investigators interviewed the complainant’s boyfriend and female friend, as well as employees and patrons of the bar, and other persons with Mr. Cuban and no one observed any inappropriate behavior by Mr. Cuban. “This incident never happened and her accusations are false.”

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is denying a 2011 allegation of sexual assault after a weekly alternative newspaper in Oregon published details of a case that prosecutors didn’t pursue, saying they didn’t believe there was evidence to support the claim. The report in the Willamette Week in Portland came two weeks after a Sports Illustrated account that portrayed a hostile work environment for women in the front office of the Mavericks. The woman claimed Cuban reached inside her pants and penetrated her vagina with his finger while they were taking a picture in a Portland nightclub. In an email to the Associated Press on Tuesday, Cuban wrote, “It didn’t happen.”

But around 2 am, the woman said, she and her friend went to pay their tab and encountered Cuban, who was standing by himself. “It was apparent he was very drunk,” the woman’s friend later told police. “His eyes were half closed, he was unstable on his feet, and he was slurring his words.” The alleged victim asked Cuban to pose for a picture. She told police that Cuban initially placed his right hand on her lower back. “He then moved his hand down until it was on her buttocks,” according to McGuire’s summary of the alleged victim’s statement. “Cuban then pushed his hand down the back of her jeans and inside her underwear where he cupped his hand over her groin area and inserted the tip of his finger into her vagina.”

Cuban gave McGuire the names of two people who’d been with him at the Barrel Room: Lindsay McCormick, a television reporter who had worked for the Blazers, and Kevin Love, the NBA star who’d grown up in Lake Oswego and then played for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “There was tons of people around,” Cuban told McGuire. “I kept on…chest bumping Kevin Love.” The detective subsequently contacted both McCormick and Love. Neither recalled seeing or hearing anything.

“We have no basis at this time to conclude that the Mavericks team is giving anything less than its best effort on the court, and Mark has assured us that this is not the case,” Silver concluded in the memo. “But even a suggestion that such conduct could be occurring is obviously damaging to our game, as it creates a perception of impropriety. It is also extraordinarily unfair to the players and coaches who are, in fact, competing at their highest possible level every night. You are therefore advised to avoid such statements, and to pass along this admonition to all other key personnel in your organizations. We will continue to monitor closely the play of all teams during the remainder of the season.”

“Shortly after I got arrested, immediately when I got out, the team was actually flying to Salt Lake City,” the former Mavs.com beat writer told Jean-Jacques Taylor and Will Chambers during an appearance on their ESPN Dallas radio show on Tuesday, in his first public comments since a statement following his firing in the wake of SI’s investigation. “Immediately when I got out, I went to the office and I sat in Terdema Ussery’s office, and he said, ‘Hey, after everything that’s happened today, I don’t know what you want to do. I don’t know if you need time apart, or time away, to clear your head.’”

“I can’t say that the Mavericks tried to hide it,” said Sneed, who confirmed that he’s not operating under the constraints of any non-disclosure agreements when discussing his time with the Mavs. “Anyone that talked to me, I spoke pretty openly about it. I don’t know if anyone within the organization spoke openly about it. It was kind of one of those things where everyone seemed to know already, or seemed to draw their own conclusion off what they assumed happened. I didn’t really address it with anyone outside of Buddy Pittman.”
7 months ago via ESPN

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was solely responsible for the decision to keep former Mavs.com reporter Earl K. Sneed on staff after two separate domestic violence incidents, telling ESPN on Wednesday that it was a “horrible mistake in hindsight.” Sneed was fired this week in advance of Sports Illustrated publishing an investigative story about a culture of misogyny and predatory sexual behavior within the Mavericks organization. Cuban said he was not aware of “gruesome details” of a 2011 domestic dispute that resulted in Sneed being arrested at the Mavericks’ office until contacted by Sports Illustrated this week. “I want to be clear: I’m not putting the blame on anybody else,” Cuban told ESPN. “It came down to my final decision that I made.”
7 months ago via ESPN

“It was bad, but we made a mistake about the whole thing and didn’t pursue what happened with the police after the fact,” Cuban told ESPN. “So we got it mostly from Earl’s perspective, and because we didn’t dig in with the details — and obviously it was a horrible mistake in hindsight — we kind of, I don’t want to say took his word for it, but we didn’t see all the gruesome details until just recently. I didn’t read the police report on that until just [Tuesday], and that was a huge mistake obviously.”
7 months ago via ESPN

In the wake of a Sports Illustrated investigation that detailed a culture of misogyny and predatory behavior in the Dallas Mavericks organization, the team’s longtime star, Dirk Nowitzki, responded Wednesday, calling the allegations “truly, truly disgusting.” “It’s tough,” Nowitzki said after the team practiced at USC in advance of a Friday game against the Lakers. “It’s very disappointing. It’s heartbreaking. I’m glad it’s all coming out. I was disgusted when I read the article, obviously, as everybody was. I was shocked about some of the stuff.”
7 months ago via ESPN

“So really, really disappointed that our franchise, that my franchise, that stuff like that was going on,” Nowitzki said. “It’s very sad and disappointing. But I think [Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban] is trying to step up and lead this franchise to the right direction, and that is hiring investigators, finding out all the little details that we have to know as a franchise what really was going on. I think Mark is going to step up here … “As a franchise, obviously, we feel bad for the victims and for what happened to some of these ladies. Like I said, it’s truly, truly disgusting. Our thoughts and prayers are definitely with some of these victims.”
7 months ago via ESPN

“First of all, I’m grateful we live in a place in time where people have the courage to speak up about things like this,” Carlisle said. “I also have a 13-year-old daughter, and I want her to know that it’s both brave and safe to speak out, and that’s very important to me, and it should be important to everybody. What I can tell you is there is going to be a thorough investigation into this from an outside group led by two people at the top of their profession.”
7 months ago via ESPN

“It was bad, but we made a mistake about the whole thing and didn’t pursue what happened with the police after the fact,” Cuban told ESPN. “So we got it mostly from Earl’s perspective, and because we didn’t dig in with the details — and obviously it was a horrible mistake in hindsight — we kind of, I don’t want to say took his word for it, but we didn’t see all the gruesome details until just recently. I didn’t read the police report on that until just [Tuesday], and that was a huge mistake obviously.”

Cuban was outspoken and emotional in a discussion with SI, alternately remorseful for the lack of oversight and defiant that he had no prior knowledge of the situation. On being given a list of various assertions made in the SI story: Cuban: “I mean, this is all new to me. That’s what I can tell you. Um, I mean, the only awareness I have is just because I heard you guys were looking into some things. And I started doing some, asking some questions. Terdema [Ussery] was hired before I got here, and the assertions you made were news to me. I talked to our HR person and again after these came up. And I was told there had been no complaints since I bought the team or even prior to that. None. And based off of what I’ve read here, um, we just fired our HR person. I don’t have any tolerance for what I’ve read… I feel sick to my stomach.”

We had a number of women basically say Mark knew. ‘He had to know.’ ‘He turned a blind eye as long as the revenue came in.’ The consensus among the women was basically there’s no way Mark didn’t know. What do you say to them? Cuban: “That’s incorrect. That’s incorrect. Look, as long as the revenue came in. We lost money. Jon, you saw how we ran. I focused on basketball. I declare over and over and over again this is not about as long as the revenue came in. You know, that’s absolutely incorrect. I did not know. The only thing I ever heard in terms of Terdema was that he had an affair with somebody in the office early on in my tenure and I mean I didn’t think it was appropriate at that time to address somebody on their personal business. I had no inkling. Nobody said a word to be about anything related to harassment in any way shape or form

Having reviewed his records, Cuban called on SI on Tuesday to clarify that an email indicated that, in 2014, he had been made aware of Sneed’s alleged assault of a female co-worker. “I was aware of it. I also suggested that we put him through domestic violence training class and then create a zero tolerance policy that included a variety of things…I don’t want this to be incorrect. I don’t want you to think I misled you. We took this very seriously.”

Wertheim’s reporting indicates that female employees regard the basketball side—particularly when in the presence of Mavericks players—as safe and respectful environment. To the extent Cuban was indeed on the “basketball” side, he operated in a space where female employees appear to have been treated well. Cuban’s attempt to create a bright line of demarcation between basketball and business also helps him deflect blame—it implies that he was not in a position to monitor the alleged misconduct of Ussery, who worked for Cuban from 2000 to 2015, or that of Mavericks.com writer Earl Sneed, who worked in different capacities for the team from 2010 until being let go today.

A new statement from Sneed appears to outline just how much the Mavericks knew about Sneed’s behavior. Rather than fire him, Sneed says the Mavericks took some very strange steps to try to keep him away from the team’s female employees. Here’s the statement in full (emphasis mine): While both instances described in the report are damning and language used is not accurate, the two relationships described in the report are not something I am proud to have been a part of. I underwent much counseling after both situations, under the direction of Buddy Pittman, and I feel like I grew from that counseling. I also signed a contract stating that I would not have one-on-one contact or fraternize with female employees after the inaccurately described incident with my female co-worker, who was a live-in girlfriend. I abided by the details of that contract for four years, and received counseling during that period to avoid future instances. I thank Buddy Pittman for helping me to grow during that time, and I thank Mark Cuban for his willingness to help facilitate that growth.

Interviews with more than a dozen former and current Mavericks employees in different departments, conducted during a months-long SPORTS ILLUSTRATED investigation, paint a picture of a corporate culture rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior: alleged public fondling by the team president; outright domestic assault by a high-profile member of the Mavs.com staff; unsupportive or even intimidating responses from superiors who heard complaints of inappropriate behavior from their employees; even an employee who openly watched pornography at his desk.

In the summer of 1998, the Mavericks conducted an internal investigation of Terdema Ussery after several female employees made complaints of inappropriate workplace behavior. Ussery was retained, but shortly thereafter the entire Mavericks workforce received revamped employee handbooks that included a new sexual harassment policy. Buddy Pittman, a new head of H.R., was hired by the Mavs that summer as well, no coincidence according to multiple team sources. “They basically brought [Pittman] in to save T from himself,” says one former employee, referring to Ussery by his nickname. She noted as well that Pittman’s cubicle—he did not have a private workspace—was within earshot of Ussery’s office.

Earl K. Sneed was involved in a domestic dispute with a girlfriend. According to a Dallas police report, Sneed “sat on top of her and slapped her on the face and chest.” At one point he told the woman, “I’m going to f—— kick your ass. Today is gonna be the worst day of your life.” Sneed, according to the report, “fled before the reporting officer arrived.” The woman, according to the report, suffered a fractured right wrist and bruises on her arms and chest in the altercation.

The Dallas Mavericks issue the following statement from owner Mark Cuban on an upcoming Sports Illustrated article: The Dallas Mavericks have received information about behavior in our workplace that appears to have violated the organization’s standards of conduct. It has been alleged that a former officer of the organization engaged in various acts of inappropriate conduct toward women over a period of years. This individual left the employment of the Mavericks nearly three years ago and the Mavericks have only learned of the scope of these complaints in the past days.

The Mavericks organization takes these allegations extremely seriously. Yesterday we notified the league office and immediately hired outside counsel to conduct a thorough and independent investigation. The investigation will focus on the specific allegations related to this former employee, and will look more broadly at our company’s workplace practices and policies. In addition, an employee whose job was to receive and investigate such complaints and report them accurately and fully, has been suspended pending the conclusion of our investigation.
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