A longtime Phoenix Suns employee resigned from the team last month, alleging she had become the target of bullying and retaliation from her superiors after raising gender equity concerns and misconduct within the organization, according to documents obtained by ESPN.
Melissa Fender Panagiotakopoulos, who started working for the Suns in August 2007, sent a resignation email on May 20 to 16 members of the ownership group, including majority owner Robert Sarver, daring them to respond to this. which she called a toxic and misogynistic work culture.
His resignation came amid the NBA’s workplace investigation of Sarver and the Suns, which the league launched in November after ESPN published a story detailing allegations of racism and misogyny at a venue. sometimes hostile and toxic workplace during Sarver’s 17-year tenure as majority owner. Sarver has denied the majority of the allegations in ESPN’s reports.
In her resignation email, Panagiotakopoulos wrote that she was sending it to “key stakeholders” to “ensure this group can influence positive change.”
She did not specifically reference issues with Sarver, or name an individual employee.
Panagiotakopoulos most recently held the title of senior premium experience manager, a position responsible for helping drive revenue from high profile customers. She held this position from April 2014 until her resignation.
In the email, which was also sent to the Suns’ human resources manager, Panagiotakopoulos offered a list of allegations, saying that “each of these points creates the culture and constitutes the character of our leadership.”
She alleged that there were “inherent conflicts of interest with managers’ ability to receive commissions, select offers, revise suite rental terms to line their pockets, and operate in a manner different from the rest of the sales organization without any real cohesive system or oversight.”
She also alleged gender inequality and discrimination, writing, “Is it a coincidence that I’ve been the only mother in the entire business organization for the past 15 years? Is it because some men were better paid in equivalent roles?
And she alleged issues with “HR’s ability to stay relevant and influence C-suites — lack of follow-through, ability to resolve conflict, or genuine concern for employee well-being.”
“We have been made aware of the allegations by a former employee and are investigating them, in accordance with our Respectful Workplace Policy,” the Suns Legacy Partners organization said in a statement provided to ESPN. “The Phoenix Suns are committed to creating a safe, respectful and inclusive work environment free from discrimination and harassment, and we do not tolerate retaliation for reporting suspected misconduct.”
Despite the team’s recent success on the pitch, Panagiotakopoulos wrote that the organization “has never been more dysfunctional and the culture is rapidly eroding.”
Panagiotakopoulos, who declined to comment for this story, also wrote that she had previously expressed similar issues, including gender discrimination, in a memo to the team’s human resources department on November 10 – less than a week old. after the initial ESPN story was published.
The memo, which was attached to the email sent to Suns property on May 20 and obtained by ESPN, said, in part, “Over the years, it has become clear to me that the Suns organization n does not place the same value on developing women in its workforce, or even ensuring that they are treated equally to their male counterparts.”
In that memo, Panagiotakopoulos alleged that a male colleague with a similar tenure but less responsibility was being paid a higher rate and allowed to work from home.
“As a working mother, when I asked for the same flexibility, I was denied,” she wrote. “I have observed these kinds of inequities throughout the Suns organization, and have personally experienced the kind of gender-based misconduct depicted in recent media reports. And when I attempted to share my concerns with HR and management (including people at the highest levels), I was fired – and was even once told to ‘take a cold shower’.”
In his resignation, Panagiotakopoulos referenced the November memo, writing, “Since this confidential interaction with senior management, HR and the legal department, there has been constant retaliation and intimidation from my direct management. .”
“Among other things,” she wrote, “they barred me from dinner parties with clients, scrutinized my every move, decision, and email with excruciating levels of micromanagement.”
“My job has become more intolerable and toxic than ever,” Panagiotakopoulos said.