Phoenix Suns employee leaves, citing retaliation following concerns over toxic and misogynistic cultures

Longevity Phoenix Suns An employee quit the team last month. She claimed she was bullied and retaliated against by her superiors for raising concerns about gender equality within the organization, according to ESPN documents.

Melissa Fender Panagiotakopoulos began her Suns career in August 2007. She sent an email to 16 Suns owners, including Robert Sarver, to request that they resign.

Her resignation was due to the NBA's investigation of Sarver's workplace and Suns' employees, which began in November after ESPN published it. a story detailing allegations of racism and misogyny in a sometimes hostile and toxic workplace Sarver was majority owner for 17 years. ESPN's report has mostly refuted most of the claims against Sarver.

Panagiotakopoulos stated in her resignation email that she was sending it “key stakeholders” so they could “make sure this group can affect positive change.”

She did not mention Sarver specifically, nor name any employees.

Panagiotakopoulos was most recently the senior premium experience manager. This position is responsible for helping to generate high-level client revenue. From April 2014 to her resignation, she held this position.

Panagiotakopoulos sent an email to Suns head of human resource, and stated that a number of allegations were made, including the assertions that “each one of these points creates the culture” and “makes up the character for our leadership.”

She claimed that there were inherent conflicts of interest in managers' ability to get commissions, cherry-pick deals, revise suite leasing terms to make their own money, and operate in a way different than the rest of sales organization without any true consistency or oversight.

She also claimed inequities in gender discrimination and inequities, writing: “Is it a coincidence I have been the single mother in the entire company for the past fifteen years?” Why was it that certain males were getting paid more for similar roles?

She also alleged problems with human resources' “ability stay relevant and exert influence on C-suites – the lack of follow up, ability to solve conflict or genuine concern for employee well-being.”

In a statement to ESPN, the Suns Legacy Partners organization stated that they were made aware of the allegations by a former employee. They are now investigating them in accordance with their Respect in the Workplace Policy. “The Phoenix Suns are committed creating a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace free from discrimination and harassment. We do not tolerate retaliation if we report any alleged misconduct.”

Panagiotakopoulos said that the team has had recent success on court but that the organization was “never more dysfunctional” and that the culture is “eroding rapidly.”

Panagiotakopoulos refused to comment for this article, but she also said that she had previously spoken out on similar issues, including gender discrimination in a memo to the team’s human resources department Nov. 10, less then a week after ESPN published its initial story.

The note was attached to an email to Suns ownership on 25 May and was obtained by ESPN. It stated, in part: “Over many years it has become evident to me that Suns does not place the equal value on developing women in their workforce or ensuring they are treated equally with men.”

Panagiotakopoulos stated in that memo that a male colleague who had a similar tenure and less responsibility was paid at an increased rate and allowed to work from home.

She stated that she was a working mother and had requested the same flexibility. “I have seen these types of inequalities in the Suns organization. I have also personally witnessed the type of gender-based misconduct reported in recent media reports. When I tried to raise my concerns with HR leadership (including the highest-ranking individuals), I was dismissed and even told to “take a cold bath.”

Panagiotakopoulos, in her resignation, referred to the November Memo, writing: “Since that confidential interaction with senior leadership and HR, there has been an ongoing retaliation, bullying by my direct leaders.”

She wrote that, among other things, she had “excluded me from client dinners and scrutinized every move, decision, or email with excruciating degrees of micromanagement.”

Panagiotakopoulos declared, “My job is more intolerable than ever.”

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