OAKLAND, Calif. – A former Golden State Warriors employee filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against star guard Monta Ellis on Wednesday, alleging Ellis sent her unwanted texts that included a photo of his genitals.
In her lawsuit, which also names the team, Erika Ross Smith alleges Ellis began sending her several dozen explicit messages, sometimes several times a day, starting in November 2010 through January while she worked for the team's community relations department.
The messages included lines such as, "I want to be with you," and "Hey Sexy," and periodically asked her what she was wearing or doing, according to the lawsuit.
Smith would often reply with "What do you want?" or "I am sleeping," the lawsuit claims.
"On a micro level, my client has endured unwanted harassment, has suffered and continues to suffer emotional distress and trauma," her attorney, Burt Boltuch, said at a news conference in his Oakland office. "On a macro level, this type of conduct, especially in the sports world, must stop.
"She was embarrassed. She was intimidated. She felt scared and helpless."
The Warriors deny the allegations, saying Ellis and Smith had a "consensual relationship."
At a charity event in nearby Alameda, Ellis would only say that the team has responded.
"It's a legal matter, we'll let it play its course," Ellis told KTVU-TV. "Y'know, what happens, happens."
Boltuch said his client rejected Ellis' advances and feared that no one would believe her.
"I was treated unfairly. I was let go," Smith said at the news conference. "It wasn't my fault that I was let go."
Boltuch also showed a photo of what he said was Ellis' genitalia that the guard allegedly sent to Smith's work-issued cellphone on Dec. 17, 2010, a day after he complained to the team about her job performance.
When questioned if the photo came from Ellis, Boltuch responded, "We know it came from him."
Rick Welts, the Warriors' president and chief operating officer, said in a prepared statement Wednesday that the organization takes all harassment allegations seriously.
"When we were made aware of a consensual relationship between Mr. Ellis and the Plaintiff, we did what an organization should do. We told both to stop — promptly, directly and fairly," Welts said. "The Warriors have never taken any action against the Plaintiff for any inappropriate reason, and we deny the allegations she is making."
Boltuch rejected the team's claim.
"It was absolutely, unequivocally 100 percent not consensual," Boltuch said. "And if it was, why was my client's job duties removed and nothing was done to Mr. Ellis? To me that smacks of sexual harassment."
Ellis' agent, Jeffrey Fried, said Wednesday that he was en route to Oakland and didn't immediately have a comment.
According to the lawsuit, the Warriors changed Smith's job description and eventually fired her after Ellis' wife, Juanika Ellis, learned of the texts and complained to team executives in January.
Smith said she told team executives that Monta Ellis told her he was using a "secret cellular phone" that was being kept by the team's equipment manager and was in the name of a third party.
Smith, who has worked in similar jobs with the Washington Wizards and the Phoenix Suns, said Wednesday that it was tough to go public.
"It was pretty hard because I knew that essentially my career is over and it would be hard to re-establish myself after working so hard throughout the years," said Smith, who believes she may be blacklisted in NBA circles.
According to the lawsuit, Smith said she told team officials that Ellis' wife called her on Jan. 7 and said, "I know about the secret phone."
Shortly after that, Smith said Ellis told her that he met with team officials and general manager Larry Riley told him "not to worry," and that "everything would be swept under the rug."
The following month, Juanika Ellis apparently used her purse to push Smith into a wall during a Warriors home game, the lawsuit said. Smith said she believes that Ellis' wife believes Smith initiated the texts with the player.
"She was accusatory towards me," Smith said Wednesday.
Boltuch said the team in February reduced Smith's responsibilities, including interaction with Ellis and other players after she refused to resign.
"They offered her what I believe is a bribe," Boltuch said. "They said, 'It'd be best if you resign and we'll give you some money.' She rejected it."
Boltuch said the team eliminated Smith's position in August, more than a week after she notified the team that a reporter contacted her inquiring if Ellis was "stalking" her.
The lawsuit alleges retaliation, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress and seeks unspecified damages.
Ellis was the Warrior's leading scorer last season, averaging 24.1 points per game. His acrobatic layups and ball handling skills have made him a fan favorite though he is known to be reticent and has few endorsement deals and less notoriety than other players of his stature.
Ellis signed a $66 million, six-year deal with the Warriors in 2008 not long after winning the NBA's Most Improved Player award.
He then sustained a serious ankle injury that summer on his motorized scooter and missed most of the season, earning a 30-game suspension without pay because he wasn't supposed to be riding such a vehicle.
Ellis was recently selected as a team captain for this season.