A judge said she is inclined to grant a motion by the Los Angeles Sparks to force arbitration of a former general manager’s allegations she was fired for raising complaints of alleged misconduct by the then-team president and a managing partner.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michelle Williams Court took the case under submission without issuing a final ruling.
Plaintiff Penny Toler sued the WNBA team and former team president Christine Simmons on March 20, five months after being fired after a profanity-laced postgame tirade that included the use of a racial slur. Defense attorneys later moved to have the case decided in arbitration, citing a clause in Toler’s contract.
Williams issued a tentative ruling Thursday that Toler’s case should be heard by an arbitrator rather than a jury, but said after hearing arguments that she wanted to mull the issues further.
Toler, 54, maintains she suffered retaliation after complaining about the alleged extramarital affair between Simmons and team managing partner and governor Eric Holoman, saying the relationship made her job harder. When Toler complained to Simmons that her conduct was a distraction to the team and exposed the Sparks to liability, the team responded by firing the plaintiff, the suit states.
Toler also alleges she was treated more harshly than male Sparks employees who engaged in far more egregious conduct and were never investigated, fired or otherwise disciplined.
Her lawyers maintain in their court papers that there was no agreement to arbitrate the plaintiff’s wrongful termination or employment and wage claims against the Sparks.
The team maintains Toler, who is Black, was fired for using the “N-word” after going inside the Sparks’ locker room after a loss to the Connecticut Sun last Sept. 19.
“Penny Toler’s complaint is replete with falsehoods and meritless claims and is merely an effort to smear the good reputations of people with whom she is angry,” team attorneys state in their court papers. “The Los Angeles Sparks appropriately ended Toler’s contract with the team. Toler engaged in a completely outrageous and inappropriate tirade in which the `N-word’ was only one of many extremely offensive profanities she used.”
The team lawyers further state in their court papers that Toler’s conduct “was not acceptable and is against the Sparks’ values and culture.”
Toler’s claims against Simmons are “similarly groundless and were introduced to retaliate against the Sparks and to harm Simmons’ reputation,” according to the Sparks’ lawyers court papers.
Toler did not deny using the “N-word,” but said it was not directed at any players.
Simmons left the Sparks in late 2018 to become the first-ever COO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.