Former LA Sparks general manager Penny Toler files lawsuit against team

Photo Credit: Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Ever since that explosive Ramona Shelburne article on ESPN detailing an allegation that former Los Angeles Sparks general manager Penny Toler used a profanity- and racial epithet-laced tirade after a Sparks playoff game against the Connecticut Sun, we have not heard much from the ex-Sparks general manager.

That report led to the Sparks letting go of Toler and also made mention of how there was a disagreement between coach Derek Fisher and Candace Parker on how to proceed with Los Angeles’ strategy going into Game 3 down 2-0 to the Connecticut Sun.

While a focal point of that report may have been the eye-opening process that led to Fisher’s hiring – the Sparks letting go of Brian Agler and the “extensive” search that Toler later admitted was a “list of one,” Toler’s latest move is aimed at painting a picture that said process was justified.

Toler has filed a lawsuit against the Sparks, alleging that the impetus for her firing was for drawing up concerns about an alleged illicit relationship between the team president – Christine Simmons – and a managing partner – Eric Holoman. Toler said that her job was made difficult because of Simmons and Holoman being “engaged in an extra-marital affair.”

She also contends that there was a double-standard for male employees, making mention of the team’s former coach from 2015-18. Brian Agler was that coach (and the Sparks won a championship under Agler in 2016) but the filing does not mention Agler, now the coach of the Dallas Wings, by name.

In late 2018, Simmons departed from the Sparks to take another high-profile Los Angeles position at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The suit contends even after she left that her influence remained per the alleged tryst between her and Holoman, who became interim general manager after Toler was let go. In early 2019, the Sparks named Danita Johnson its new president and COO.

Toler also contended that Simmons had another sexual relationship – with a Sparks ball boy. “On at least one occasion, Simmons publicly harassed the ball boy because he brought his girlfriend to a Sparks game,” the suit contends.

One element of the suit that may not endear Simmons to Sparks fans was her intention to trade Candace Parker. The complaint reveals Toler wanted to trade Parker, but she was close to Simmons and any trade was prevented because of her and Holoman. The complaints also mentions another allegation – that Parker was allowed to travel on a private plane with Holoman and Simmons while other Sparks players flew commercial. It also mentions “excessive drinking and partying with Parker after games” and that alcohol was present in the locker room even when the team was not celebrating a championship.

It mentions Toler raising said complaints to Los Angeles’ “all-male ownership group” that included Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten. The allegations against Agler was that he “made unwelcome sexual advances” and that he was “so verbally abusive to players that fans who were within earshot during games complained.” In the complaint, Toler alleges she got a complaint from a fan regarding that Agler was hard to watch and “I can’t imagine how it must feel to play for him. It’s most unpleasant.”

The complaint also contends Toler was not adequately paid in her final check from the Sparks organization. Dawn Collins and Tae Kim of the firm CollinsKim, LLP are the attorneys named representing Toler.

It mentions on a few occasions Sparks LA Sports, LLC as a “Delaware corporation.” Such an organization is legally registered in Delaware “but may conduct business in any state,” says Investopedia.

Toler was Sparks general manager for 20 years and was also credited with making the first basket in the WNBA’s history. She said to the Associated Press that she tried to find another solution to resolve the situation, but was left with no other choice.

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