Former LA Sparks GM Penny Toler Sues For Wrongful Termination, Says She Was Fired For Exposing Sexual Relationships At Work

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Written by Ann Brown
Toler
The former LA Sparks GM Penny Toler is suing for wrongful termination. She says she was fired for exposing sexual relationships at work. In this Dec. 7, 2018, file photo, Los Angeles Sparks executive vice president and general manager Penny Toler poses during a WNBA basketball news conference in Los Angeles. Toler was fired by the Sparks on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

In October 2019, the general manager of the Los Angeles Sparks, Penny Toler, was fired — supposedly, for using a racial slur in the locker room. Now she is suing, claiming she was actually fired from her job at the women’s NBA pro basketball team for revealing multiple inappropriate relationships going on within the organization, including one between the team president and a managing partner, according to Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press.

Toler had been with the organization for 20 years. She was fired a day after there reports that she had used “racial epithets” in a postgame speech during the playoffs. 

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The team won three WNBA titles under Toler’s watch in Los Angeles, and only missed the playoffs twice. Toler, herself a basketball player, also played three seasons for the Sparks, making the first basket in WNBA history, Yahoo Sports reported.

According to her lawsuit, Toler says she was fired in retaliation after raising complaints about the workplace conduct of former team president Christine Simmons and managing partner and governor Eric Holoman, who she alleges “were engaged in an extra-marital affair” while Simmons served as team president. 

Simmons left the organization in 2018, yet Toler says Simmons still had influence over the team due to her relationship with Holoman. 

There was an incident where Toler was trying to trade a player away but Holoman stopped her because Simmons and the player were close, according to the Associated Press,

Toler claims it was difficult to do her job because of the Simmons-Holoman relationship. “I wasn’t part of the clique,” Toler said, according to the Associated Press. “Every day people would have no idea what I went through here working for the Sparks after they were acquired by this ownership.”

The Simmons-Holoman relationship wasn’t the only one Toler revealed in the lawsuit. She claims that former Sparks coach Brian Agler had a sexually inappropriate relationship with an unidentified player. 

“(Agler’s) sexually predatory conduct caused certain Sparks players to complain that he made them uncomfortable and compelled other Sparks players to leave the team altogether,” Toler said.

As for the racial slur Toler was supposedly fired for, she admitted to saying it during what has been described as a “profanity-laced postgame tirade” following a playoff game, but she said it wasn’t directed toward any of the players. “By no means did I call my players the ‘N-word,’” Toler said in October. “I’m not saying that I couldn’t have used it in a context. But it wasn’t directed at any of my players.

“It’s unfortunate I used that word. I shouldn’t. Nobody should … But you know, like I said, I’m not here to defend word-by-word-by-word what I said. I know some of the words that I’m being accused of are embellished. Did I give a speech that I hoped would get our team going? Yes. 

“I think that this whole conversation has been taken out of context because when we lose, emotions are running high and, unfortunately, and obviously, some people feel some type of way.”

It looks like Toler was singled out and treated differently because she was a woman, her attorney, Dawn Collins, told Associated Press. “Coaches speak to their players to get them fired up. Many coaches use harsher language and far more controversial language. If the term is not OK, it’s not OK for everyone.”