Ex-GM Donnie Nelson sues Dallas Mavericks, says he was fired for reporting sexual misconduct; the team denies the allegation
Former Dallas Mavericks longtime general manager Donnie Nelson sued the team on Thursday, alleging owner Mark Cuban fired him last summer in retaliation for reporting that the Cuban chief of staff harassed and sexually assaulted his nephew during a job interview in 2020.
The lawsuit also alleges that Cuban offered Nelson, who was fired in June, $52 million to withdraw a wrongful termination claim and sign a confidentiality statement related to his nephew’s alleged harassment and abuse.
Nelson, in his lawsuit filed in Dallas County Court, says Jason Lutin, described in the lawsuit as Cuba’s “right-hand man” and who still works for the team, assaulted and harassed his nephew in a bedroom. hotel during the 2020 All-Star Weekend in Chicago. The nephew, a man in his twenties who is not identified in the lawsuit, had been invited by Lutin to his hotel room, according to the lawsuit.
Cuban denied Nelson’s allegations in an email to ESPN.
“Everything about this case is a lie,” Cuban wrote. “We conducted several comprehensive investigations and the only person who failed to meet Dallas Mavericks standards was Mr. Nelson. He was fired as a result. He was well aware of the investigation. He refused to participate fully. .I’ll say it again, everything he said was a lie.”
Lutin also denied the allegations in an email to ESPN and said, “What this man [Nelson] done to someone like me is absolutely indescribable.”
“It’s a complete lie and I defer to the Mavs to comment and who have already handled this matter,” Lutin said. “And obviously I have a lot of information to show that none of this ever happened.”
Nelson did not discover the alleged February 16, 2020 incident involving Lutin, nor a subsequent settlement of an undisclosed amount that his nephew quietly reached with the team, until five months later, after he and Cuban have entered into discussions to extend his contract for 10 years, according to the lawsuit.
At that time, Nelson confronted Cuban and said Lutin’s alleged activities “endangered Mavericks employees, players and the entire organization,” according to the lawsuit.
On September 18, 2020, according to the lawsuit, Cuban texted Nelson delaying further discussion of a contract extension, saying, “But honestly, before I can talk, I need to know more about what’s going on with the another matter. Since then it’s related to some of the discussions we’ve had.”
Cuban’s text, the lawsuit says, is a response to Nelson’s warning that other Mavericks employees were at risk of sexual harassment by Lutin, who the lawsuit calls “a sexual predator.”
“In this lawsuit, Cuban will be held accountable for his words and false public persona and for repeatedly ignoring and covering up sexual harassment and discrimination by high-level executives against Mavericks employees,” reads the statement. the complaint.
On June 13, Cuban informed Nelson that he was firing him. Media at the time reported Nelson was fired amid “internal friction” with Haralabos Voulgaris, the former professional player hired in 2018 to be the Mavericks’ head of quantitative research and development.
The lawsuit alleges a direct link between “Nelson’s complaint and Lutin’s Improper Activity Report” and Cuban’s withdrawal of a 10-year, $66 million contract offer to Nelson in September 2020.
Nelson worked for the Mavericks for 24 seasons, serving as assistant general manager and assistant coach before being promoted to president of basketball operations. He remained Cuba’s top basketball executive for years after the bitter departure of his father, Don, who served as coach and general manager of the Mavericks from 1997 to 2005.
In December, Nelson filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“There were absolutely no errors, warnings … or professional performance issues with Nelson between the time he reported the sexual harassment and predatory sexual tendencies of Leprechaun and the period during which Mark Cuban revoked the offer of 10 years and launched a retaliatory campaign,” Nelson’s complaint says.
In his lawsuit, Nelson alleges that Cuban offered him $52 million if he entered into a confidentiality agreement regarding his nephew’s alleged sexual assault. In the unexecuted agreement that is attached to the lawsuit, the Mavericks deny Nelson’s claims and admit no wrongdoing, but prohibit him from discussing or disclosing his allegations.
“If the statements in Nelson’s EEOC indictment were false and the Mavericks really fired Nelson for poor job performance, why on earth would Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks or anyone offer Nelson $52 million to settle Nelson’s legal claims?” declares the lawsuit.
In a statement to ESPN, Nelson said he filed a lawsuit “on behalf of my family and all Mavericks employees who have experienced workplace harassment, discrimination or retaliation.”
“Making a complaint is not something to be taken lightly – however, it was extremely important for me to speak up,” Nelson said in his statement. “The facts revealed in this lawsuit will hopefully protect the incredible people I have had the honor and privilege to work with during my 24 years with the Mavericks.”
Nelson’s attorney, Rogge Dunn, said in a statement that Nelson had “the courage to take this legal action”, adding: “I hope anyone who has been sexually harassed by a Mavericks employee will come to their senses. will also express. I hope people who know the facts and issues of this lawsuit will move forward.”
The lawsuit alleges that Cuba “may not have disclosed” Nelson’s EEOC accusation to the NBA.
Regarding Lutin’s alleged sexual assault during All-Star Weekend, the lawsuit says Nelson asked Lutin if he would visit his nephew about job opportunities with the Mavericks and in the industry. sports and entertainment. Nelson’s nephew attended a lunch hosted by Don Nelson. The lawsuit includes a photo of the lunch guests, including Leprechaun and the nephew.
After lunch, Lutin invited Nelson’s nephew to meet him in Lutin’s hotel room “to discuss employment opportunities,” the lawsuit states.
“Leprechaun asked Nelson’s nephew to sit next to him on the bed, then harassed and sexually assaulted a vulnerable and unsuspecting young LGBTQ man seeking employment with the Mavericks,” the lawsuit states. “Lupin’s numerous policy violations and indiscretions were clearly in violation of the Mavericks’ so-called ‘zero tolerance’ policy.”
Nelson’s complaint to the December EEOC says Cuba “couldn’t afford to be called out for Lutin’s sexual harassment.”
“Instead of promptly taking corrective action against Goblin and terminating him,” the EEOC complaint states, “as required by the Mavericks’ so-called zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment, the Mavericks quietly and confidentially resolved sexual harassment and sexual assault” of Nelson. nephew and Sprite remained employed without any discipline.
The EEOC complaint continued, “Cuba’s cover-up of Lutin’s sexual harassment and assault is evidence that the only reason Cuba ever cared about the Mavericks’ discriminatory and sexist work environment was when it was exhibited and made public by Sports Illustrated.”
In 2018, a Sports Illustrated article on the Mavericks organization described “a corporate culture plagued by misogyny and predatory sexual behavior” that spanned decades, including numerous allegations against the former CEO and president Terdema Ussery, who left the team in 2015.
A subsequent NBA investigation by an outside law firm interviewed 215 current and former Mavericks employees and reviewed more than 1.6 million documents, emails and text messages.
The investigation found there had been “inappropriate conduct in the workplace” towards 15 Ussery employees, including inappropriate comments, touching and forced kissing. It also found inappropriate conduct in the workplace by former ticket sales employee Chris Hyde, including making inappropriate comments to women of a sexual nature and viewing and sharing pornographic images and videos.
Investigators concluded that the Mavericks’ management staff were “ineffective, including a lack of compliance and internal controls.” He also found that executive leadership of the team not only allowed an inappropriate work environment to exist, but also fostered the belief that those who participated in that environment could thrive.
“The findings of the independent investigation are disturbing and heartbreaking and no NBA employee, or any workplace for that matter, should be subjected to the type of work environment described in the report,” the commissioner said. the NBA, Adam Silver, in a statement in September. 2018. “We appreciate Mark Cuban’s prompt, thorough and transparent response to the allegations first presented in Sports Illustrated, including the immediate hiring of Cynthia Marshall as CEO to effect change.”
After the investigation, Cuban agreed to contribute $10 million to women’s organizations but faced no further penalties. He told ESPN he followed the requirements given to the team by the NBA following the league’s investigation.
“The NBA sent us a long list of requirements as a result of the 2018 survey,” Cuban said. “We had a list of things that needed to be reported to the NBA every year. And we did it without exception.”
In a 2018 interview with ESPN, Cuban apologized to those who were assaulted.
“Looking back, it was staring me straight in the eye and I missed it,” Cuban said. “You know…I wasn’t as focused on the business as I should have been.
“It’s never in my wildest dreams that I think this was happening right below me. And I never – the pain that people went through, the pain that people shared with me when this happened, the tears i saw… it just, it hurts. And the way i felt is nothing compared to the way they felt…. I mean, i have to recognize that I made a mistake, learn from it and then try to fix it.