Agency: Evidence warrants trial in Isiah Thomas suit

Updated: September 19, 2006, 11:39 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- A federal agency found probable cause to believe a hostile work environment existed at Madison Square Garden, where a former Knicks executive claims she was sexually harassed by New York coach Isiah Thomas.

The treatment of senior Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders was not an isolated incident, and included "severe and pervasive verbal sexual harassment," according to the findings released Tuesday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Sanders, the Knicks' former senior vice president of marketing and business operations before her dismissal in January, contends she was fired "for telling the truth" while going through internal channels to stop the harassment.

The EEOC determined there was enough evidence to believe the Garden violated the Civil Rights Act, and that senior management "was aware of the harassment but failed to address it effectively."

The process is not a verdict, but a prerequisite to pursuing such a case in federal court.

MSG downplayed the EEOC's findings in a statement: "We obviously disagree with the EEOC's determination, though it is not an uncommon outcome for this type of preliminary administrative review."

Kevin Mintzer, Browne Sanders' attorney, said the finding has an impact because it comes from an outside agency.

"The determination speaks for itself," Mintzer said. "The Garden can say things about it and I can say things, but this is really an independent finding, which speaks for itself."

Thomas' defense attorney, Peter Parcher, stressed that the EEOC is "not a court of law."

"In a court of law, Isiah Thomas will be given an opportunity to face his accuser, cross-examine all witnesses and present evidence to demonstrate the allegations are without merit," Parcher said in a statement.

Browne Sanders has accused Thomas of telling her he was "very attracted" to her and "in love" with her and tried to kiss her.

Thomas filed court papers last month denying he sexually harassed Browne Sanders, acknowledging that he once touched her shoulder, and may have even tried to kiss her on the cheek, but did nothing wrong. The Garden said Browne Sanders' firing was for legitimate business reasons.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press