Phoenix Suns employee resigns, alleging retaliation after raising workplace culture concerns
A Phoenix Suns employee resigned in May from her position with the team, alleging that she faced bullying and retaliation from colleagues after raising concerns about the organization’s workplace culture.
ESPN reported on Tuesday, citing documents it had obtained, that longtime employee Melissa Fender Panagiotakopoulos on May 20 sent her resignation email to the Suns’ management and ownership group, which includes team majority owner Robert Sarver.
Panagiotakopoulos, who served as the team’s senior premium experience manager, made a number of allegations in her email, including of gender discrimination and inequities within the organization.
“Is it a coincidence that I have been the only mother in the entire sales organization for the last 15 years? Is it because certain males were being paid more in equivalent roles?” Panagiotakopoulos wrote in her email, ESPN reported.
Panagiotakopoulos also cited issues with the organization’s human resources department in her email, saying that the department failed to follow up on employees’ complaints and resolve issues, ESPN noted.
She specifically alleged that she was not paid as much or given the same opportunity to work from home as a male coworker who she said had worked with the organization for a similar amount of time but had a lower level of responsibility than her, per the outlet.
“As a working mother, when I requested the same flexibility, I was denied,” she wrote in the email. “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), I was dismissed – and once was even told to ‘take a cold shower,'” she added. “Over many years, it has become clear to me that the Suns organization does not place the same value on developing women in its workforce, or even on ensuring they are treated equally as compared to their male counterparts.”
The NBA announced last November that it had launched an investigation into the Suns organization and Sarver’s conduct following a previous ESPN report alleging he engaged in racist and misogynistic behavior.
For that report, the outlet interviewed 70 current and former Suns employees who described a work environment that was “toxic” and “sometimes hostile” under Sarver, who has owned the team since 2004. They also alleged that he ran an organization where “employees felt they were his property.”
Sarver owns the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury as well.
In a statement to ESPN, the Suns said they have been made aware of Panagiotakopoulos’s allegations and are investigating her claims.
“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,” the organization told the outlet.
The Hill has reached out to the Phoenix Suns and the NBA for comment.