By Mary Cunningham
Fanatics Inc., the sports apparel company whose executive chairman is Sixers’ co-owner Michael Rubin (center, above), is being sued by the UNited States government, for racial discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
The suit was brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and centers mainly around claims by a former employee, a black man, who says he was repeatedly subjected to discrimination during his time at the company’s Jacksonville headquarters,according to Bloomberg News.
The accusations include a team leader using the n-word on the employee’s first day of work, and other comments from colleagues and superiors such as “I’m not racist but a lot of you [black] guys can’t read” and “Africans in Europe know their place, but not in the United States.”
Other Fanatics employees describe the workplace as racially divided, with separate treatment of white and black employees, according the lawsuit. A former operations administrator said minorities are “treated like uneducated slave labor.”
“Fanatics is committed to treating all employees fairly and takes complaints like this very seriously,” the company said in a statement. “We deny any wrongdoing and look forward to vigorously defending these claims in court.”
Fanatics is the world’s largest seller of licensed sports merchandise. Its design and production speed has changed the way sports fans shop for apparel and merchandise, a shift that has led to deep partnerships across professional sports.
Fanatics runs the online stores for the NFL, MLB, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, NASCAR, and PGA Tour, just to name a few. It also runs the online shop for most major professional U.S. teams and has recently expanded its stable of apparel licensing deals with leagues like the NFL and NHL.
Fanatics was named the Sports Business of the Year by Yahoo, and it began to grow rapidly after Rubin purchased the company in 2011 and merged other assets under the brand.