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Lead investigator of Mavs toxic workplace culture discusses horrific details

SB Nation logo SB Nation 9/20/2018 Brice Paterik
Lim Kit Siang wearing glasses © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

One of the investigators shared their findings on the Mavericks toxic workplace culture, and it wasn’t pretty.

Walking into the atrium of AAC, the upbeat classic rock playing over the speakers didn’t fit the feel of the room. Reporters hunched over their laptops and others stood talking to each other in hushed voices by the walls. After a brief delay, Anne Milgram and Cynthia Marshall walked out to the podium to speak.

Anne Milgram was the Attorney General of New Jersey before her current role as Special Counsel at Lowenstein Sandler LLP and professor of practice at NYU’s School of Law. She was one of two lead investigators looking into the Mavericks’ toxic workplace culture allegations.

Findings from the report

In her comments, Milgram illustrated the depth of depravity manifested in the Mavericks business practices for 20 plus years. This systemic issue wasn’t caused solely by the three problematic individuals; it severely escalated when so many in power either refused to believe the victims or actively worked to protect the abusers.

“They were three bad actors, but it was more than that,” Milgram said. “It’s important to understand how this was handled.”

In the investigation, Milgram and the other investigator, Evan Krutoy, found that Mark Cuban had no knowledge of the wrongdoings of Terdema Ussery. Somewhat unbelievably, no official complaints existed in Ussery’s human resources file.

Most of Cuban’s involvement on the business side of the organization was through email; he rarely came into the business office. Former HR director Buddy Pittman, however, did heavily influence the toxic culture pervasive in the Mavs organization.

The report cited a deep distrust of Pittman by Mavericks employees. One instance occurred where Pittman directed one of Ussery’s victims not to speak up and did the same to another employee.

One quote in the findings, about Chris Hyde, stood out from the rest. Dallas brought Hyde on in May 2000 as a full-time Account Executive in the ticket sales department before firing him 14 years later:

Two ticket sales employees — one female and one male — stated that in the spring of 2009, while in a conversation about a recent mass shooting, Hyde told them that if he were ever going to “take someone out,” the female employee would be first, the male employee would be second, and then he would move on to other departments. Both employees told the Investigative Team that they interpreted Hyde’s remarks as a threat to bring a gun into the office and shoot them. The threat so concerned the female employee that she told her family that if anything bad happened to her, they should consider Hyde a suspect.

Abusers moved past unwanted sexual comments to straight up threats of murder because nothing was done.

Milgram said most of these serial harassers started their behavior from day one. In fact, they went unchecked from the start so why would they stop if even the CEO was engaging in predatory behavior?

All 46 pages of the report are posted here if you’re interested in the specifics of the findings. I recommend reading it to shed more light on what exactly happened.

Recommendations from the report

After their findings were concluded, the investigators made 13 recommendations. I’ll just hit the high points.

  • One of the first things their team did was use Milgram’s experience with big data to get a snapshot of the organization. They looked at how many women and people of color worked on the business side, their salaries, and to see if they were turned down for promotions and their level of pay.
  • At the beginning the Mavs had very few records and the ones they had were mostly just paper copies. Dallas has made significant improvements to their records since the investigation began.
  • The second main theme of the recommendations was to improve the way for employees to report misconduct and make the process less formal. A 24/7 hotline to report harassment is now available for Mavericks employees.
  • Anonymous survey will be held regularly to keep checks on those in positions of power so another Ussery situation never happens again. The Human Resources department will expand and lay out clear lines of decision making as well as prompt and consistent discipline.
  • Lastly, the investigation recommended hiring more women and people of color as supervisors and employees in general. Milgram and Krutoy have found no solution to fixing a culture like the Mavericks have more effective than simply hiring a more diverse workforce.

Bringing it all together

At the conclusion of her remarks, Milgram noted that it is common practice for companies to make a few or none of the changes recommended by investigative teams. The Mavericks made all of the recommended changes and cooperated absolutely with Milgram and Krutoy.

Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall closed the press conference by talking about the changes she hoped to make as CEO and how she wanted the organization to set an example to others. Mavs employees at the VP level and above are now 47 percent women and 33 percent people of color.

“We get to define what diversity and inclusion in sports looks like with the Dallas Mavericks,” Marshall said. “We get to show women that you can have a career in sports.”

This team talked a big game about doing what’s needed to change a toxic culture of 20 years as fast as possible. Though the early signs point to good progress, the Mavericks still have a long road to haul to set the example they want to set for the entire NBA.

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