Sydney Flames hit with 'boys club' lawsuit

·3-min read

Management of the Sydney Flames women's basketball team is alleged to have engaged in a "boys club" culture before dismissing a CEO.

In a lawsuit filed in the Federal Court earlier this month, Karen Dalton claims she was discriminated against because of her age, gender and disability after complaining about the lack of resources given to the Flames compared to the Sydney Kings men's team.

The 61-year old was employed as head coach of the Flames in 2003 and promoted to general manager in April 2014.

She moved into the role of CEO in July 2020, reporting to Sydney Flames owner Paul Smith and Sydney Kings CEO Chris Pongrass.

As part of the Women's National Basketball League, the Flames were owned by Total Sport and Entertainment until May 2020 when the team was acquired by Hoops Capital.

In the lawsuit, Dalton says she was treated differently than her senior male counterparts, including being described as "emotional" which she described as "a notoriously sexist and patronising way" to dismiss a woman's concerns.

She claims that compared with the Flames, the Kings team were provided with more coaches, massage therapists, supplements, media and marketing resources, COVID-19 tests, and game and training venues.

Dalton was allegedly excluded from a decision to replace Flames head coach Katrina Hibbert with Shane Heal in March 2021. Instead, four male colleagues including Pongrass had been consulted, court documents say.

She alleges that from 2020 to 2022, she experienced an "excessive and unreasonable" workload, sometimes working more than 50 hours per week, with insufficient staff to assist.

"By November 2021, (Dalton) was struggling physically and mentally with her excessive workload and lack of support," the lawsuit outlines.

In May 2021, she complained about the under-resourcing of the Flames and the "boys club" culture of Hoops, including "the lack of respect shown to women and the exclusion of women from decision-making".

Despite a "two clubs - one team" culture being introduced in August 2021, the Kings continued to receive greater support and services than the Flames, Dalton said.

According to court documents, further complaints were made during work-in-progress meetings from October 2021.

"(Dalton) received a hostile and dismissive response to the WIP meeting complaints from the male management representatives present such as raised voices and crossed arms. No proper solutions were implemented."

At a November 2021 meeting, she told Pongrass and Hoops Capital executive director Sean Nicholls she was at "breaking point".

She claims she was berated in December 2021 and broke down in tears after another meeting in January. Throughout this time, she says her concerns about inadequate resources were ignored.

On May 24, Dalton was told her negativity was affecting other staff and that she needed a "refresh". She was not part of a 10-year plan and would no longer be working for the Flames.

Dalton claims at the time she would be moved to another role. Six days later however, she was told her position had been made redundant and there were no other openings.

Age and disability, in that she was suffering from stress, anxiety and lack of sleep, were primary factors in her dismissal, she said.

Dalton seeks an apology, compensation and penalties for the respondents.

Smith is also named in the lawsuit as allegedly being involved in the workplace breaches.

In a statement, the Sydney Flames said they would vigorously defend the lawsuit and called the allegations "entirely without foundation".

A spokesperson said Dalton lost her job because of restructuring within the organisation.

"The Sydney Flames deny in the strongest terms the suggestion Ms Dalton was discriminated against because of her gender, her age, her health condition or her making of complaints," the club said.

"The Sydney Flames are proud of our association with the Women's National Basketball League and stand by our reputation as an equal opportunity employer."