Mavs owner Mark Cuban donates $10M after workplace probe
DALLAS — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has agreed to contribute $10 million to help further the cause of women in sports and raise awareness about domestic violence after an investigation released Wednesday substantiated numerous incidents of sexual harassment and improper workplace conduct within the franchise going back more than 20 years.
Investigators hired by the outspoken billionaire said there was no evidence to show Cuban knew of the most explosive allegations involving former team president Terdema Ussery. But the report faulted Cuban for not firing two employees when there were clear signs he should have.
The report was made public some seven months after Sports Illustrated detailed years of examples of a hostile workplace for women on the business side of the team.
Anne Milgram, one of the lead investigators and former attorney general in New Jersey, said Cuban didn’t know many details of allegations because he was rarely in the club’s business office. It is housed away from the home arena and basketball operations.
But when some issues were brought to Cuban’s attention, he erred by not acting swiftly, the report said.
In one case, a successful ticket salesman wasn’t fired after surveillance video showed a used condom slipping out of his pants. Years earlier, Cuban had been told pornography was found on the employee’s computer, and Cuban warned him that he would be fired it happened again.
When told about the condom, Cuban was not aware of any further issues with pornography on the computer and wrote to Ussery, “Don’t make a bigger issue out of it than it is.” The employee wasn’t fired until three years later after other issues came up, including with a new female employee.
In another case, Cuban didn’t fire team website reporter Earl Sneed after learning of a second domestic violence allegation against him. The accuser was another Mavericks employee. Sneed was fired after the SI report.
“Once those decisions came to him, we found that it was incumbent upon him to get the full information in every decision he made and to get accurate picture of people’s conduct and their misconduct,” Milgram said. “It comes back to the question of you can’t be half in and half out on disciplinary decisions.”
Cuban declined to comment after the release of the reports. The findings were presented at a news conference with Milgram and Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall, who was hired by Cuban within days of the SI report. Marshall made a statement but didn’t take questions.
The NBA said it is requiring the Mavericks to submit quarterly reports on implementing the recommendations in the report. Under Marshall, the Mavericks have already done many of them, including hiring women and minorities in leadership positions, establishing formal reporting and investigative protocols for misconduct allegations and adding anonymous employee surveys on workplace culture.
“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,” Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We appreciate that Mark Cuban reacted swiftly, thoroughly and transparently to the allegations first set forth in Sports Illustrated.”
The investigative report detailed cases of 15 women who alleged various forms of harassment by Ussery, including inappropriate comments, unwanted touching and forcible kissing. Ussery acknowledged some parts of the accounts but denied the more serious claims. Ussery’s denials lacked credibility, according to the report.
The NBA largely deferred to the investigation, which included interviews with 215 current and former Mavericks employees and the review of 1.6 million documents.
An advisory group that will include Cuban, Marshall and league representatives will determine where the $10 million will go. It is to be earmarked for groups committed the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence. By rule, the maximum fine allowed by the NBA is $2.5 million.
When the SI report came out, Ussery was three years removed from his time with the Mavericks. He had previously served as commissioner of the old Continental Basketball Association and was praised by former NBA Commissioner David Stern. Ussery left the Mavericks for the sports shoes and clothing company Under Armour but was gone from that job in less than six months.
The investigation was clearly embarrassing to Cuban. At a news conference announcing Marshall’s hiring in February, the normally outspoken star of the TV show “Shark Tank” conceded he could not explain to fans how such a hands-on owner could be unaware of such explosive allegations on the business side of his operation.
After the incident, the NBA said it reviewed its policies and procedures related to respect in the workplace, and required all NBA teams to do the same. The league also established a confidential hotline for team and league employees to report workplace misconduct.