Investigation details workplace misconduct within Dallas Mavericks organization

Dallas Mavericks organization misconduct?

DALLAS — An independent investigation released Wednesday described numerous incidents of workplace misconduct within the Dallas Mavericks organization spanning more than two decades, including improper conduct toward 15 female employees by former president and CEO Terdema Ussery. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban agreed to contribute $10 million to women's causes and domestic violence awareness as part of the investigation into workplace conditions with his franchise.

The NBA also announced Wednesday that it would require staffing, reporting and policy changes for the Mavericks seven months after a Sports Illustrated report detailed years of examples of a hostile workplace for women on the business side of the operation.

The investigation determined the Maverick's management was ineffective, which permitted workplace misconduct to flourish. No allegations were said to have occurred on the basketball side of the organization.

Ussery worked for Cuban for 15 years and was investigated by the Mavericks over similar allegations in 1998, two years before Cuban bought the team. The league investigation was conducted by lawyers from outside law firms, and determined Cuban wasn't aware of Ussery's actions, which the investigators determined included inappropriate comments, touching and forcible kissing.

Ussery has denied the misconduct. He spent 18 years with the team before going to the sports apparel company Under Armour in 2015, a job he left after less than six months.

The investigators found "sufficient, credible evidence" to support allegations made against Ussery by 13 female employees between 2000 and 2015. Many of the women gave investigators detailed descriptions of the incidents and told colleagues about the misconduct when it occurred, the report found. Investigators also uncovered "common threads" between the allegations, at times between women who do not know each other, including that two former employees and a current employee who all said Ussery "subtly made a swirling motion with his finger when his hand was on them."

The investigators also found the accounts of two unidentified women who came forward during a 1998 internal investigation of Ussery to be credible.

The investigation also substantiated improper workplace conduct by former Mavericks ticket sales employee Chris Hyde, including inappropriate sexual comments, viewing pornography at the office, unwanted sexual advances and violent and threatening outbursts towards co-workers. It also confirmed an incident in which a used condom fell out of his pants leg at the office in 2011.

While the report found Cuban did not know about the majority of Hyde's misconduct, it said he was notified of several problematic incidents, and Ussery forwarded a video of the condom incident to Cuban. According to the report, Cuban replied, "Don't make a bigger issue out of it than it is."

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Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, reacts during a game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on Dec. 23, 2017, in Atlanta, Ga. Getty

Cuban told Ussery to send Hyde a letter indicating his behavior was inappropriate and that another incident would result in termination, but the letter was never sent, the report found.

Cuban made a "significant error in judgment" by not firing Hyde for that incident, an investigator said.

The incident was among several that "should have prompted Cuban to engage his management team, both to seek their counsel and to learn the full scope of Hyde's behavioral issues," the report found. "Cuban did not do so, and his piecemeal involvement in Hyde's discipline contributed to Hyde's lengthy tenure with the organization." 

Hyde was terminated in 2014 at Cuban's request after he allegedly acted inappropriately towards a female employee, the report said.

In addition, the report substantiated two acts of domestic violence by former Mavs.com reporter Earl Sneed, including a 2014 incident against a female co-worker and a 2011 incident against his then-fiancee. 

The fiancee suffered a broken wrist in the 2011 assault that resulted in Sneed's arrest and guilty plea, according to the report. The woman emailed Cuban and Sneed's then-supervisor to inform them of the assault and repeated abuse. Sneed denied the allegations to his employers at the time and later, to the investigators, who found his account wasn't credible. 

The female co-worker, who was Sneed's girlfriend in 2014, said Sneed pulled her out of a car, pinned her down and pressed on her face, resulting in bruises, scratches and knots under her eye and chin. Cuban was also informed of this incident, but he said he didn't want to fire Sneed, according to the report. Cuban said Sneed "want[s] to do the right thing" and that "throwing him on the street could lead to problems elsewhere," instead suggesting Sneed complete counseling and be made to agree to a list of rules in order to maintain his job.

The report found Cuban's failure to fire Sneed after the second domestic violence incident to be another "significant error in judgment."

Sneed and former human resources director Buddy Pittman were fired in the wake of the Sports Illustrated report, which included allegations that executives weren't responsive when women complained of workplace violations.

Appearing on ESPN's the Jump, Cuban apologized to the women involved and to their families.

"This is not something that is just an incident and then it's over," Cuban said. "It stays with people, and it stays with families. I'm just sorry I didn't see it -- I'm sorry I didn't recognize it, and I hope that out of this we'll be better."

Cuban asked two former prosecutors to investigate the complaints and the franchise's workplace practices. The 43-page report by Anne Milgram, the former Attorney General of New Jersey, and Evan Krutoy, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's office, was based on information gathered from 215 interviews with current and former Mavericks employees and the review of more than 1.6 million documents, according to the NBA.

"This is a story about the countless women in the organization who had their ability to work for the Mavericks or to work in sports deeply impaired by what happened here," Milgram said at a press conference Wednesday.

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Former federal prosecutor Anne Milgram announces the findings of an internal investigation into the Dallas Maverick's organization CBS Dallas

Soon after the SI report, Cuban hired former AT&T executive Cynthia Marshall as CEO. The NBA made note of that and other staffing changes the Mavericks had already implemented, and employees described a "sea change" in the professional environment almost immediately following the publication of the Sports Illustrated article, the investigation found.

"The findings of the independent investigation are disturbing and heartbreaking and no employee in the NBA, or any workplace for that matter, should be subject to the type of working environment described in the report," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "While nothing will undo the harm caused by a select few former employees of the Mavericks, the workplace reforms and the $10 million that Mark has agreed to contribute are important steps toward rectifying this past behavior and shining a light on a pervasive societal failing - the inability of too many organizations to provide a safe and welcoming workplace for women."

The investigation was clearly embarrassing to Cuban. The normally outspoken star of the TV show "Shark Tank" at one pointed earlier this year conceded he could not explain to fans how such a hands-on billionaire could be unaware of such explosive allegations on the business side of his operation. It also came as his team struggled again, missing the playoffs with a losing record for the second straight year.

The NBA said it has reviewed its existing policies related to respect in the workplace since the publication of the Sports Illustrated article, and required all teams to do the same.