Donnie Nelson, the former general manager of the Dallas Mavericks, is suing the team for his June 2020 dismissal. Nelson claims that team owner Mark Cuban fired him in retaliation for his reporting that his nephew was sexually harassed and sexually assaulted by Jason Luten, Cuban chief of staff, during a job interview. Nelson also alleges that Cuban tried to pay him, offering him $52 million to sign a confidentiality agreement and withdraw his erroneous termination claim.
Cuban denied all of Nelson’s allegations in an email to ESPN:
“Everything in this file is a lie,” Cuban wrote. “We had several full investigations and the only person who did not adhere to the standards of the Dallas Mavericks was Mr. Nelson. He was fired as a result. He was well acquainted with the investigation. He refused to participate fully. I will say it again, everything he said is a lie.”
Nelson’s allegations against the Cuban Mavericks
The incident that was the center of Nelson’s lawsuit concerned his nephew, who has not been identified, and Luten, who was described by ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. as Kobe’s “right hand.” On February 16, 2020, Nelson’s nephew went to lunch with Nelson, Luten and several other people to discuss business opportunities with the Mavericks. After lunch, the lawsuit alleges that Luten invited Nelson’s nephew to his hotel room to discuss business opportunities.
The lawsuit states that “Lutin asked Nelson’s nephew to sit next to him on the bed and then sexually molested and sexually assaulted an LGBTQ young man looking for work with the Mavericks.” It is clear that Luten’s numerous violations and policies The indiscretion was a violation of the Mavericks’ supposed “zero tolerance” policy.
It wasn’t until five months later that Nelson found out about the alleged incident between his nephew and Lotten, after a settlement over the money and a confidentiality agreement had been reached, according to the lawsuit. In the lawsuit, Nelson alleges that he then confronted Cobain over the incident in the midst of ongoing talks over a 10-year contract extension.
The lawsuit says Cobain ended up offering Nelson a 10-year extension worth $66 million, and alleges a connection between Nelson facing Cuba about harassment and Cobain’s eventual withdrawal of the contract offer.
By June 2021, there were several reports that Nelson was not compatible with Haralabos Voulgaris, Mavs director of quantitative research and development and former professional gambler. Reports claimed that Vulgaris had a Cuban ear, and that Cuban was not listening to anyone else in the organization when it came to basketball operations. By the middle of the month, Nelson was fired after 24 years with the organization.
Nelson also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December, claiming that because his job performance was so good, Cuban could only fire Nelson because of his Lutein report.
“There were no errors, warnings…or problems with functionality with Nelson between the time he reported Luten’s sexual harassment and predatory tendencies and the time period when Mark Cuban canceled the Ten Years Show and began a campaign of revenge,” Nelson’s complaint says.
Mavs investigated at hostile workplace in 2018
This isn’t the first time allegations of sexual assault and harassment have surfaced from the Mavericks. Sports Illustrated published an explosive disclosure of the team’s “hostile” work environment in 2018, with current and former employees claiming numerous incidents of sexual harassment.
An investigation by the National Basketball Association (NBA) found that more than a dozen women had experienced behavior that was classified as “inappropriate.” However, no one was fired as a result of the investigation, as the two employees who targeted these women are no longer working on the team.
Cuban, who claimed that he had no idea what was happening in the organization he owned, was not officially sanctioned by the NBA. He donated $10 million to women’s organizations and says the team followed all requirements issued by the NBA as a result of the investigation.