The U.S. government is suing Fanatics Inc., the sports apparel company whose investors include the National Football League and Major League Baseball, for racial discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
Filed Tuesday in district court in Florida, the suit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 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.
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."
Owned by billionaire and 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin, 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 in November raised $1 billion led by SoftBank Group Corp. which valued the privately-held company at $4.5 billion. In December, it was named the Sports Business of the Year by Yahoo.