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Mavs' owner Mark Cuban escapes harsh penalties, but damaging report soils reputation

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 9/19/2018 Jeff Zillgitt

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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban escaped a suspension and more severe punishment from the NBA, and for that, he is fortunate.

But there is significant damage to the reputation of his team and his management style following an independent investigation that revealed “substantiated numerous instances of sexual harassment and other improper workplace conduct within the Mavericks organization over a period spanning more than twenty years."

Some details first came to light in a Sports Illustrated report in February.

In a lengthy statement, the NBA said in part, “investigators concluded that Mavericks’ management was ineffective, including a lack of compliance and internal controls, and that these shortcomings permitted the growth of an environment in which acts of misconduct and the individuals who committed them could flourish.”

Cuban will donate $10 million to “organizations that are committed to supporting the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence.”

That number is significant because under the NBA’s constitution, the most Commissioner Adam Silver could fine Cuban is $2.5 million.

But was that enough of a penalty? Is this a deterrent?

Reasonable minds can disagree, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Cuban didn’t receive the harshest penalty possible – beyond the $10 million and humiliating depiction of the franchise he runs.

MORE:

If there’s such a thing as precedent in a situation like this, former NBA commissioner David Stern did not suspend New York Knicks owner James Dolan in the aftermath of the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment lawsuit in which the Knicks were found liable. Brown was awarded $11.6 million in punitive damages.

Also, the in-depth investigation conducted by attorneys Evan Krutoy and Anne Milgram included 215 interviews and evaluation of 1.6 million documents (including emails) and described Cuban as negligent, ignorant and that he used poor judgment in several instances. However, they never accused him of culpability, fostering a corrosive workplace environment or attempting to cover up damaging information.

In the case of former Mavs CEO Terdema Ussery, who engaged in “improper workplace conduct toward 15 female employees … including inappropriate comments, touching, and forcible kissing,” investigators found no evidence that Cuban had knowledge of Ussery’s misconduct. No witnesses said they told Cuban, and there was no documented electronic communication that showed Cuban knew. It doesn't look good that Cuban entrusted Ussery, but Cuban was unaware of his behavior, per the investigation.

Take the case of former ticket sales executive Chris Hyde, who according to the investigation made sexually inappropriate comments, watched pornography on his computer at work, made unwanted sexual advances, dropped a used condom on the floor at work and had threatening and violent outbursts at work.

The investigators concluded that Cuban should’ve fired Hyde following the condom incident and his decision to retain him “was a significant error in judgment.”

Former Mavs.com writer Earl K. Sneed was accused of domestic violence against two women, and the investigators concluded that Cuban’s failure to fire Sneed after the second incident was again “a significant error in judgment.”

The investigation depicted Cuban as an absentee owner on the business side, detached from what was happening day to day. He spent most of his time with basketball operations in a different building. Cuban also had employees who failed him including those who gave Cuban incomplete and inaccurate information.

Perhaps what saved Cuban from further punishment was his lack of knowledge regarding what was happening in his offices and his decision to act quickly following the Sports Illustrated report. Sneed was fired, and Cuban promised a through investigation.

He also hired former former AT&T executive Cynthia Marhsall to change the Mavs’ workplace culture, and the team also hired a senior vice president of human resources and a chief ethics and compliance officer.

The Mavs also are under the watchful eye of the league, which has required quarterly updates and demanded the Mavs implement training for all staff, including ownership, on issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment.  

The report is damning, and Cuban has been contrite. On ESPN’s The Jump Wednesday, Cuban said, “This is not something that just is an incident and then it's over. It stays with people. It stays with families. And I'm just sorry I didn't see it. I'm just sorry I didn't recognize it."

Follow Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt

Related slideshow: Ranking the top 50 NBA players in 2018-19 (Provided by The Big Lead) 

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