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As interviews begin in Phoenix Suns investigation, uncertainty remains over whether employees who signed NDAs can participate freely

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The New York-based law firm leading the NBA’s investigation into the workplace culture of the Phoenix Suns under owner Robert Sarver has begun scheduling and conducting in-person interviews with current and former team employees, but it’s unclear whether those who signed up for the nondisclosure Agreements will be able to speak freely to investigators.

The Suns and the NBA declined to answer questions from ESPN about whether former employees would be released from their confidentiality agreements in order to avoid potential legal penalties if they spoke to investigators.

A Suns spokesperson said the organization was “fully cooperating with the investigation” but declined to answer questions about the NDA’s issuance, citing the ongoing investigation.

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An NBA spokesperson, Mike Bass, also declined to answer the question, saying: “It would be unusual to provide details of the methods of any investigations while they are ongoing – because doing so could compromise or jeopardize the integrity of the investigation. Ensure that the process will be fair and impartial. “.

The league launched an investigation after ESPN published a story that included allegations of racism and misogyny in a hostile and sometimes toxic workplace during majority owner Robert Sarver’s 17-year tenure in Phoenix. Association sources then said the Suns encouraged employees with any relevant information to share. Recently, two investigators visited Phoenix and, via video call, guaranteed confidentiality to everyone who requested her to participate in the investigation, sources previously told ESPN.

But a former Suns employee told ESPN they were still unsure about whether they could speak freely about their experiences in Phoenix, saying they would be “happy to speak” with investigators if they were sure they wouldn’t face legal consequences. The employee hopes that “the NBA will support me.”

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The association’s sources said investigators, who are expected to return to Phoenix as soon as next week, are coordinating off-site interviews with staff in the coming days and weeks. University sources said the attorneys requested documents from the Suns, including emails, human resources records and information about non-disclosure agreements.

A former Suns HR employee previously told ESPN that the organization will often enter into a settlement agreement when the employee threatens to file a lawsuit or raises issues that could lead to legal action. It’s unclear how many former employees signed nondisclosure agreements, but team sources said the number of former employees who signed nondisclosure agreements, along with the total amount spent on termination packages, matters to minority members of the Suns ownership group.

“The League and the Phoenix Suns say they want an ‘open and transparent investigation’, but what takes so long with employees released from non-disclosure agreements?” said a former Suns executive. “This should already be done.”

Michael Selmi, an Arizona State University law professor who focuses on employment and discrimination law, told ESPN that he expects all current and former employees who have signed nondisclosure agreements to be allowed to speak to university investigators.

“If you are going after the employees [with signed NDAs] Those involved in the investigation, it would be difficult to describe this as a “full” cooperation.”

“Truth [NDAs are] Selmi added: “Most people stick to it because the fear of penalties can be strong, but there is very little enforcement in the courts of NDAs, and that means there is not a lot of case law about when NDAs are enforceable and when they are. They are not.”

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Selmi explained that the “fear of sanctions” could include potential legal action by Suns against employees who signed non-disclosure agreements.

Under Section 24 of the league’s constitution, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is given broad powers “while protecting the integrity of the professional basketball game and maintaining public confidence in the league.”

These broad powers extend to investigations, including Silver’s right to demand “certification and production of documents and other evidence” from any employee, owner, or member of the NBA.

In the weeks after The Suns provided employees with contact information for the investigating attorneys, that contact information was widely shared among former employees, with many reaching out to investigators to inquire about meeting dates, according to university sources.

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