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Ex-GM Donnie Nelson sues Dallas Mavericks, claims one of Mark Cuban's executives sexually assaulted his nephew

The lawsuit also says Cuban offered Nelson $52 million to take back a wrongful termination claim and sign a confidentiality statement related to those claims.

DALLAS — Former Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson filed a lawsuit against his former team in a Dallas County court on Tuesday.

Nelson's allegations against the Mavs

Nelson is alleging that owner Mark Cuban abruptly fired him last offseason without an explanation. Nelson believes he was fired in retaliation for reporting to Cuban that a high-level Mavericks executive sexually harassed and sexually assaulted a job applicant.

The lawsuit says Cuban offered Nelson $52 million to take back a wrongful termination claim and then sign a confidentiality statement related to Nelson's claims.

Nelson says in his lawsuit that the executive is Jason Lutin, who he describes as Cuban's "right-hand person." Lutin still works for the team and is involved in the owner's business endeavors.

The lawsuit also claims Mavericks employees and players were at risk for being sexually harassed by Lutin. At one point, it goes into detail about Lutin allegedly sexually assaulting Nelson's nephew.

Mark Cuban is calling these allegations false and "a way to get back at us."

Here is the full statement Cuban provided WFAA:

"The filing is full of lies and ridiculous. The NBA is and was fully aware of our investigation into Mr. Nelson and his claims. They fully supported our conclusion that the only person to violate The Mavs and NBA policies was Mr. Nelson, and they were fully supportive of our decision to terminate Mr. Nelson. I can only guess that this is sour grapes and a way to try to get back at us."

Nelson said the main incident this lawsuit stems from a trip to Chicago for the NBA All-Star Game in 2020. At the time, Nelson's nephew was interested in a job in the sports and entertainment industry. The lawsuit claims that, because of this, Nelson asked Lutin if he would meet with his nephew about job possibilities with the Mavericks.

After a lunch meeting, Lutin insisted Nelson's nephew come to his hotel room to discuss job possibilities, the lawsuit says. According to the lawsuit, Lutin then sexually harassed and sexually assaulted Nelson's nephew.

According to the lawsuit, Nelson's nephew went on to tell the Mavericks of Lutin's actions, and Cuban and the Mavericks allegedly arrived at a settlement surrounding those claims without telling Nelson.

Per the lawsuit, Nelson learned about the alleged February 2020 incident in the hotel room later -- a full five months after it happened.

After Nelson brought up his issues with Lutin and his behaviors towards Mavericks employees to Cuban, the lawsuit says Cuban and the Mavericks then asked the general manager to "sign a confidentiality agreement to keep quiet about Lutin's sexual harassment in the hotel room."

The lawsuit also alleges that Cuban sent Nelson a text message in September 2020, pushing back discussions of a contract extension and saying, "But honestly, before I can talk I have to find out more of what's going on with the other matter. Since it's related to some of the discussions we have had."

Cuban's attitude towards Nelson allegedly changed after discussions around the allegations arose, and the Mavs owner gave Nelson "the proverbially cold shoulder," according to the lawsuit.

Cuban fired Nelson in June 2021 after he served as general manager and president of basketball operations for 24 years. In December 2021, Nelson filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge against the Mavericks for firing him as an illegal retaliation -- a position the Mavericks oppose, claiming they they fired Nelson for poor job performance, and saying that his charges against the franchise are false.

Even so, the lawsuit says that it was in the wake of that EEOC filing that Cuban allegedly offered Nelson $52 million to withdraw the charge and sign a confidentiality agreement.

Nelson also provided WFAA with a statement, saying:

"I filed this lawsuit on behalf of my family and all the Mavericks employees who have experienced harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in the workplace. Filing a lawsuit is not something to be taken lightly, however it was extremely important that I speak up. The facts that come out in this lawsuit will hopefully protect the incredible people I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with during my 24 years with the Mavericks."

The lawsuit makes other claims too, including the direct accusations that Cuban doesn't care about a workplace free of discrimination, that he tolerates a sexist environment and that, at one point, Cuban intentionally destroyed evidence related to an African-American employee finding a hangman's noose in the Mavericks workplace during Black History Month.

During his 24 years with Dallas, Nelson served as assistant general manager and assistant coach before becoming general manager and president of basketball operations. His father, Don Nelson, was with the Mavericks as coach and general manager from 1997-2005.

Nelson's lawyer, Rogge Dunn, provided WFAA with this statement:

"I’m proud to represent Donnie Nelson who has the courage to file this lawsuit. I hope anyone who has been sexually harassed by a Mavericks’ employee will also speak out. I trust that people who have knowledge about the facts and issues in this lawsuit will step forward. It’s important that employees who witness problems in the workplace stand up and be heard. That protects workers everywhere. The best way to ensure a workplace free from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation is for people to speak up when they see wrongdoing. Based on my investigation and the Mavericks’ track record on these issues, it is my opinion that Mr. Nelson will win his lawsuit against the Dallas Mavericks."

Mavericks' statement and legal response

The Mavs organization released a statement Thursday evening on the lawsuit.

"Allegations that were brought against Jason Lutin were promptly and thoroughly investigated by outside investigators and counsel. The NBA was immediately made aware of the allegations. The claims were determined to be fabricated and the matter was resolved.

Separately, Mr. Nelson refused to cooperate with the investigators that were looking into his behavior. Nelson’s claims of being terminated because of retaliation are completely unfounded and the lawsuit filed today is baseless and full of lies. Mr. Nelson is fully aware, as is the NBA, of the reasons for his termination at the end of the 2020-2021 season.

The Mavs have always intended to hold private the inappropriate actions of Donnie Nelson that led to his termination."

On Friday, the Mavericks also filed a legal response in the Dallas County courts.

According to the court documents, the organization says Nelson's lawsuit was a "final desperate effort of Nelson's lengthy scheme to extort as much as $100 million."

The organization alleges that before the lawsuit Nelson demanded a "blackmail payment in exchange for his promises not to expose the sexual orientation of a former Mavericks front-office employee or to assert other claims which he promised would embarrass Defendants and certain individuals, including Mark Cuban."

In the court documents, the Mavericks reiterated that they hired an independent law firm to investigate the allegations involving Nelson's nephew. The organization alleges that Nelson did not fully cooperate with the investigation such as not providing text messages.

The organization says that Nelson's nephew did not state that he was "assaulted." According to the court documents, the Mavericks say the investigation "was closed to Nelson's nephew's satisfaction."

According to the court documents, the Mavericks say Nelson was fired due to job performance and other examples of conduct that didn't comply "with NBA regulations and the Mavericks' internal human resources policies."

The organization says Nelson violated league guidelines in early 2021 when he agreed to an "under-the-table sale" of his ownership in the G-League's Texas Legends. The Mavericks say Nelson didn't report the sale to the NBA.

The organization also alleges that Nelson tried "on numerous occasions" to get Mavericks players to take part in his outside business ventures, which violated NBA rules as well.

A week before Nelson was fired as general manager, the Mavericks say in the court documents that Nelson had faced "serious allegations" that violated the team's "Respect in the Workplace policy." The Mavericks did not detail what the allegations were.

Reacting to the Mavericks' legal response, Nelson lawyer Dunn provided WFAA with the following statement:

"There are 52 million reasons why the Mavericks' claim of extortion is totally meritless and fabricated. 

If what the Mavericks claim is true, why would they continue to employ someone who is allegedly guilty of extortion? The Mavericks claim that in August 2020 Nelson approached Mark Cuban and said 'he could make go away' 'scandalous allegations from a family member' 'in exchange for a long-term contract.'  

If that allegation is true, the Mavericks would not have continued to employ Nelson for another 10 months and would've reported his alleged extortion to police. 

Nelson is not the one who brought up confidentiality in the negotiations. Nelson's silence is something Cuban’s lawyers demanded when they offered to settle Nelson’s retaliation claim -- with the final settlement amount offered by the Mavericks being $52 million.

The Mavericks state Nelson 'curiously failed to note that after Defendants submitted their response, the EEOC's processing of Nelson's charge terminated without action against Defendants.' 

The reason no action was taken against Defendants by the EEOC is simply because the EEOC had just started its investigation. EEOC investigations typically take six months or more to complete. That is why the law gives the complainant (Nelson) the option to ask for a Right to Sue letter to file a lawsuit immediately, rather than waiting many months for the EEOC  to conclude its investigation."

Previous sexual assault/harassment allegations

The lawsuit is the latest in sexual assault and harassment allegations the Mavericks organization has faced within the last several years.

In 2018, the organization conducted a seven-month investigation following a Sports Illustrated report that alleged "a corporate culture rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior."

Following the report, the organization made a number of changes, including instituting a zero tolerance policy on inappropriate behavior in the workplace in March 2018 and hiring former AT&T executive Cynt Marshall as CEO.

In July 2020, the Mavericks faced another allegation of sexual assault in a Sports Illustrated report. A woman had alleged a Mavs executive assaulted her in a hotel room in July 2019.

The SI report outlined her attempt to report the employee's behavior, how the organization responded and how the Mavs determined "there was no evidence presented of sexual assault."

The organization called the report "one-sided, incomplete and sensational."

Both in their statement and in the SI report, the Mavericks contend that they conducted a thorough investigation. According to CEO Marshall, the Mavs "determined that there was not a sufficient basis to support the allegations.”

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