Ex-Mariners employee’s accusation of racism sparks investigation by MLB
Lorena Martin filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the Seattle Mariners this week, and in it the club’s former high performance director alleges she repeatedly informed multiple Mariners staff members, including team owners John Stanton and Buck Ferguson and CEO Kevin Mather, that she was a victim of discriminatory treatment for being a woman and Latina.
The lawsuit directly opposes multiple public statements from the Mariners saying Martin’s allegations were “ludicrous.” They have said her stories detailing racism and gender discrimination, specifically from general manager Jerry Dipoto, manager Scott Servais and director of player development Andy McKay, were completely fabricated, including that she had reached out to the team’s human resources staff.
The lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court on Thursday. Major League Baseball announced last month that it is investigating Martin’s allegations.
The suit says Martin told Mather in March that she was being treated differently, and she alleges Mather told her Dipoto was bullying her and he would speak with him. It says that about that same time Martin called Stanton to inform him about “mistreatment.” He cut her off and implied to her that she should take her concerns to Mather and Dipoto.
She also reached out to Dipoto on multiple occasions, according to the lawsuit, and mentions seven other Mariners staff members she reported her concerns to. It says she complained about racial bias and gender discrimination throughout the season to Mariners human resources officials, including vice president of HR Lisa Winsby.
The statements in the lawsuit have yet to be proven as fact in court and the Mariners have yet to provide any legal response to it. Stanton, in an internal letter obtained by The Athletic on Nov. 16, told staff the Mariners completed their own “thorough internal review” into Martin’s allegations and determined they were unfounded.
Stanton also wrote that the Mariners were in the midst of evaluating their workplace conditions and “we are making strides in reshaping our workplace culture.”
Mariners vice president of communications Tim Hevly released a statement Friday afternoon, saying the team is “aware of the litigation filed this week and will respond in the appropriate venue.”
“We encourage all of our employees to come forward with any concerns or issues. The Mariners take all human resources complaints seriously and investigate them fully. We are confident in what our investigations have revealed in this case. As we previously stated, when MLB announced their outside investigation, we welcome a neutral third party to look at all the facts.”
The lawsuit states that Martin’s roles and responsibilities were undermined shortly after she was hired on Nov. 1, 2017. She was hired to be responsible for all aspects of the Mariners’ physical and mental training approach for players and staff, including oversight of major leaguers and those in the minors regarding their health, strength and conditioning, nutrition and mental skills. It was a wide-ranging position trumpeted by Dipoto and the Mariners when she was hired from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Martin told The News Tribune last month, after sharing complaints on her social media, that Dipoto called her a “cocky Latina” during a January meeting in his suite at Safeco Field. In that same meeting she said McKay called Dominican players “just plain stupid” and that in a separate meeting, Servais told her that you don’t see Latino catchers or managers because “they aren’t bright enough. They are dumb.” Two athletic trainers based at the Mariners’ complex in the Dominican Republic also told The News Tribune following Martin’s allegations that they, too, had experienced racial discrimination from Dipoto and McKay, too.
Martin also said Servais didn’t allow her into meetings with players during spring training because she is a woman, and when she complained to Dipoto about it he dismissed it.
Much of that was included in the lawsuit. And more.
It alleges Dipoto in August blamed Latino players for ruining the Mariners’ clubhouse culture and for the team’s fall out of the American League playoff picture. It says this was repeated to Martin “in an effort to intimidate her.” Dipoto allegedly stated “in a serious and condescending manner” in a January meeting that “Latino players don’t work hard, they’re lazy, and it’s part of their culture.”
Servais allegedly replied, “especially Dominican players, they aren’t bright enough, that’s why you don’t see any Latino Managers or Latino Catchers.”
The complaint also states Martin’s away-game travel was reduced from 60 days to 12 days and that she wasn’t allowed to travel the first two months of the season with the alleged rationale from Dipoto being “I don’t want the players getting a need for you.”
It mentions Felix Hernandez, too.
It alleges that Servais said Hernandez was lazy and that he was gambling money on if Hernandez would adhere to Martin’s training schedule. She began working on a training routine with Hernandez in the middle of May and saw his performance steadily improve until a back injury in Baltimore sent him to the disabled list.
The injury occurred because Hernandez was continuing the exercises Martin had started with him, except Martin didn’t go on the road trip and Hernandez told The News Tribune he used a little too much weight doing deadlifts.
The lawsuit alleges that Dipoto and others refused to allow Martin to train Hernandez on the road trip from June 19-28 and that Hernandez specifically requested Martin go on the trip.
It states that in July Dipoto and Servais “took affirmative measures to undermine and harm” Hernandez by “messing with his mental state.” The Mariners spoke publicly throughout that month that they were considering removing Hernandez from the starting rotation before they eventually did and sent him to the bullpen. Dipoto and Servais have said this offseason that Hernandez will get every opportunity to open the 2019 season in the rotation.
The Mariners said Martin was terminated on Oct. 10, but the suit alleges Martin was placed on administrative leave and continued to receive paychecks until she received a letter on Nov. 15 that she had been officially terminated – three days after her comments on social media.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction barring the Mariners from continued discriminatory practices and orders them to create policies that provide equal opportunities to all employees. Martin also seeks compensation for past and future financial losses, as well as the benefits of her three-year contract.
Dipoto commented on MLB’s investigation to 710-ESPN radio last month, saying Martin’s allegations are “unfounded. Simply not true.”
“I feel terrible, personally, and I feel terrible for the Mariners organization and Scott and Andy that we’ve been dragged into what is really an ugly mess,” Dipoto continued. “My hope is that 30 years in the game for myself, 31 for Scott and another 15 or so for Andy counts for something. We’ve carried ourselves in a professional way, treating people the right way each step and I hope that is read loud and clear here.
“Unfortunately, I cannot control the behaviors of others, but I can say that this is simply untrue.”
Servais also addressed it to reporters at MLB’s winter meetings in Las Vegas last week.
“This will be 31 years as a player, in the front office and working with players and doing a number of different things,” Servais said. “My name means a lot to me and the relationships I’ve built. I think that’s all that needs to be said at this point. MLB is doing an investigation. Some of the things that came out I’m very confident the truth will come out.”
Servais said that his 35-40 trips to the Dominican Republic he’s made throughout his career should speak for itself.
“I think people who know me and know Scott Servais and how I’m wired understand what’s important to me and that I try to understand where players come from and help them get over the hump and become productive major league players and be good citizens and good people,” Servais said. “It’s something I take a lot of pride in.
“I’ve spent a lot of time there (in the Dominican Republic). But our focus needs to be on 2019 and we’ll let MLB take care of the other stuff.”