LOS ANGELES – A former Los Angeles Sparks general manager who alleges in a lawsuit that she was wrongfully fired in 2019 for raising complaints of alleged misconduct by the then-team president and a managing partner is headed back to arbitration.
A Sparks attorney had announced during a status conference before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michelle Williams Court in October that plaintiff Penny Toler’s case was resolved, but no terms were divulged. However, on Wednesday plaintiff’s attorney Dawn Collins told Judge Colin P. Leis, who is now presiding over the case, that the accord was not completed.
“Plaintiff indicates to the court that the parties have not finalized a settlement and that arbitration has been rescheduled,” Leis’ clerk wrote in a minute order.
Leis scheduled a post-arbitration status conference for Dec. 5.
In September 2020, Court ordered that the case should be decided by an arbitrator rather than a jury, finding that the arbitration language in the plaintiff’s employment agreement with the team was in bold print with capital letters.
Toler sued the Sparks and former team president Christine Simmons in March 2020, five months after being fired after a profanity-laced postgame tirade that included the use of a racial slur. Her allegations included wrongful termination, retaliation and breach of contract.
The 56-year-old Toler maintains she suffered a backlash after complaining about an 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 alleges.
Toler also said she was treated more harshly than male Sparks employees who engaged in far more egregious conduct and were never investigated, fired or otherwise disciplined.
The team maintains that 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 in September 2019.
“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 stated 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 stated 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 chief operating officer of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.