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Report: Suns employee resigns, citing retaliation for workplace memo

Sportsnaut
Apr 10, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver against the Sacramento Kings during the second half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A longtime Phoenix Suns employee alleges that she resigned after experiencing bullying and hostile treatment she believes was in retaliation for her voicing concerns about gender equity and misconduct within the NBA team’s organization, according to ESPN.

In her resignation message, Melissa Fender Panagiotakopoulos, a Suns employee since August 2007, wrote that despite recent success on the court, the Suns’ organization has “never been more dysfunctional, and the culture is rapidly eroding.”

She listed numerous allegations of a toxic and misogynistic workplace culture, saying that “each of these points create the culture and make up the character of our leadership.”

Her resignation is the latest fallout from ESPN’s report last November that alleged misogyny and racism amid a sometimes hostile workplace during the 17-year tenure of majority owner Robert Sarver. As a result of the report, the NBA launched an investigation into Sarver and the Suns’ workplace, which is ongoing.

In her resignation email, sent to 16 members of the ownership group, including Sarver, Panagiotakopoulos wrote that less than a week after ESPN’s first story was published, she raised concerns about these types of issues in a memo to the Suns’ human resources department.

In the ensuing months since what she believed to be a “confidential interaction with senior leadership, HR and legal,” she alleges, “there has been a consistent retaliation and bullying by my direct leadership.”

“Among other things, they excluded me from client dinners, scrutinized my every move, decision, and email with excruciating levels of micromanagement,” she wrote. “My job has grown more intolerable and toxic than ever.”

Panagiotakopoulos reportedly did not name any individual employee and did not specifically reference any issues with Sarver.

ESPN reports Sarver has denied the majority of the allegations in the initial report.

In response to Tuesday’s ESPN report on Panagiotakopoulos’ resignation, the Suns Legacy Partners organization said in a statement, “We have been made aware of allegations by a former employee and are investigating them, consistent with our Respect in the Workplace Policy. The Phoenix Suns are committed to creating a safe, respectful and inclusive work environment free of discrimination and harassment, and we do not tolerate retaliation for the reporting of alleged misconduct.”

From April 2014 until her resignation on May 20, Panagiotakopoulos worked as a senior premium experience manager, tasked with helping generate revenue from high-level clients.

She alleges that while in this position, there were “inherent conflicts of interest with managers’ ability to receive commissions, cherry pick deals, revise suite lease terms to line their own pockets, and operate in a different manner than the rest of the sales organization with no true consistent systems or oversight.”

She also raised concerns in both her resignation email and the November memo about gender discrimination. In the November memo, she alleged that a male colleague with similar tenure but less responsibility received a higher rate of pay and was allowed to work from home.

“As a working mother, when I requested the same flexibility, I was denied,” she wrote. “I have observed these kinds of inequities throughout the Suns’ organization, and I have personally experienced the kind of gender-based misconduct described in recent media reports.

“And when I attempted to share my concerns with HR and leadership (including individuals at the highest level),” she wrote, “I was dismissed — and once was even told to ‘take a cold shower.'”

After expressing doubt in her resignation email about human resources’ “ability to stay relevant and exert influence over C-suites,” she wrote that she was sending it to “key stakeholders” to “make certain this group can influence positive change.”

— Field Level Media