Phoenix Suns/Robert Sarver Workplace Harassment Allegations: What Can Arizona Business Owners Learn?

Lawyer Making Hand Gestures

Everyone has heard about the breaking story of the Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver. In it, Sarver is alleged to have engaged in racist, sexist, and misogynistic behavior over a 17-year period (read the article here for the full story). No doubt, this will become a politically charged issue on both sides as it relates to cancel culture and being “woke.” Instead of going into the political issues, the practical question that business owners should be asking is: why does this matter to me?  

Personality Matters

As a business attorney, the answer I would give to business owners as to why this is matters is that it teaches an important lesson: personality matters.  In other words, regardless of whether Sarver is found to have actually done the inappropriate things alleged, the one very significant underlying message found in the current witness statements is that these people do not like Sarver as an individual. 

The reason that people do not like him appears to be that he is a micro-manager and perhaps doesn’t give people the opportunity to excel in their space. While being a business owner requires a level of determination, decision-making, and stubbornness, there is a balance to it. Without balance, your actions as the owner can be easily construed to cross legal and social lines.     

Who Cares – Legal Issues

There are a couple of reasons from a legal perspective why business owners should care that personality matters.  

First, the more that employees are disgruntled, the more likely they are to bring issues or legal claims against the company. In my experience, most employees will not spend the time or energy pursuing claims against their employer unless there is a deep emotional pull to do so. In some rare cases, the actual claim itself is that reason (physical sexual abuse), but most often the deep emotional pull is a general dislike for the employer and the workplace culture they created.

For example, in one instance several years ago, a company created a poor culture which resulted in a low-level manager firing an employee who reported that the manager was having an affair with a female co-worker in a different department. While the male employee had no direct legal claim, he felt deeply wronged, so he met with an attorney who discovered that the pay practices of the company were improper. This resulted in a multi-million-dollar legal fight and resolution, all of which would have never happened but for the company culture created by the owners of the company. I could write a book with examples like this.  

Second, when an owner of an organization creates a negative workplace culture, it creates an environment where other management-level individuals feel empowered to do the same. While the owner may know not to cross the line into legally restricted issues (i.e., race, gender, national origin, disability status, etc.) it is not uncommon for managers to take actions that they shouldn’t based on the workplace culture. 

For example, one business owner that acted much like the way Sarver is described created a very “frat-like” atmosphere in the workplace. This individual’s managers, accustomed to this loose frat type of atmosphere, engaged in sexually harassing behavior towards several female employees. This ultimately led to several of these females bringing claims against the company and the company paying several million dollars. One of the primary factors relied on to persuade the jury was that the company’s culture, from the top down, was sexist. I could write ten books with examples like this.  

In this instance, even if Sarver is not found to have engaged in inappropriate behavior from the legal perspective, the negative publicity he received and the legal fees he will spend defending this (easily into the hundreds of thousands of dollars) take a toll.   

How to Fix It – Workplace Audit

A business is a living, breathing organism. It needs to be monitored and cared for like one. This includes doing an annual business physical to check that the proper employment policies, agreements, and trainings are in place so that the business is running smoothly and in a healthy way. We do these for businesses regularly. Through doing these, it is always incredible to see that negative culture-related issues in a business surface. These can be corrected with appropriate actions before the business becomes exposed to large liabilities like those discussed previously. The key is to correct the issues before they are brought forth by an employee.

Our business physicals not only ensure that the business is legally compliant but also that the workplace culture is healthy.  

Contact Us

If you would like us to help with your business, please contact us at (480) 744-6621 or at request@counxel.com. Don’t forget to check out the good things that others are saying about the services they received from Timothy Coons on Google.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice for your specific situation. Use of and access to this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Counxel Legal Firm. Please contact request@counxel.com or (480) 744-6621 to request specific information for your situation.

*Conveniently located off the 101 Freeway and the US 60 in the middle of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, and Queen Creek!

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