MSG exec, employee refute claims by Browne Sanders

Updated: September 26, 2007, 6:47 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- A Madison Square Garden employee and executive refuted claims by Anucha Browne Sanders in her sexual harrasment suit against New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas.

Sanders, the Knicks' former vice president of marketing and business operations, claims Thomas showered her with profanities. However, John Cudmore, a senior vice president of finance, testified on Monday that Browne Sanders was unsparing in her own foul language to describe fellow executives.

He told a federal jury that Browne Sanders, on numerous occasions referred to others with the f-word and "bitch," a word she says Thomas frequently hurled at her.

Cudmore was called as a witness by the defense as the trial entered its third week. Late Monday afternoon, 1050 ESPN Radio's Andrew Marchand reported that Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan is expected to testify on Tuesday afternoon.

Browne Sanders is seeking millions of dollars in damages in a sexual harassment suit against Thomas. She was hired by the Knicks in late 2000 and was fired in January 2006, months after complaining to MSG management that she was mistreated by Thomas.

Meanwhile, an MSG employee testified on Monday that she had consensual sex with Knicks guard Stephon Marbury, contradicting earlier claims by Browne Sanders.

Kathleen Decker took the witness stand in a crowded Manhattan courtroom to try to settle for a jury what happened the night of her birthday in 2005 when she met Marbury at a strip club and got into the basketball star's truck.

She said she was not intoxicated when she left the club in Mount Vernon, N.Y., intending to get a ride home with Marbury's cousin. Instead, she encountered Marbury sitting in his truck calling out to her.

"Stephon Marbury asked me: 'Are you going to get in the truck?' and I got in the truck," she told the jury. Asked if the sex was consensual, she answered, "Completely ... I was in control."

One lawyer asked her if Marbury raped her. "Never," she responded.

The testimony came after the fired Browne Sanders testified as part of her sexual harassment case that Decker told her she felt no choice but to submit to Marbury's advances.

Browne Sanders had made it part of her $10 million claim in U.S. District Court that Madison Square Garden and the Knicks did not adequately respond to complaints of sexual harassment and abusive language by her boss, Thomas.

Decker was called as a witness by MSG to support its arguments that Browne Sanders was planning all along to sue Madison Square Garden and spent time before she was fired trying to build her case.

On cross examination, Decker, who was an intern at the time of the incident, said her superiors made her feel that her job might be in jeopardy after revealing the facts about the night of her birthday.

Decker became most emotional during her half-hour on the witness stand when she testified that Browne Sanders had been mean to her during encounters before she described the Marbury episode.

"She told me to sit down and she started yelling," Decker said.

In November 2005, Decker was summoned to the offices of Browne Sanders and two other employees to describe her birthday encounter with Marbury and his cousin as part of a probe of sexual harassment allegations against Marbury's cousin, also an MSG employee, she testified.

Decker said she told them the cousin had made an inappropriate comment to her nearly a year earlier but that she did not want to file a complaint. She added that she had an outside work relationship with him as well.

While speaking alone with Browne Sanders in her office, Decker described her birthday night, she said. On the witness stand, she disputed Browne Sanders' account of the night and said she never told anyone she regretted her night with Marbury.

"I didn't say it," said Decker, who also testified that she has since been promoted and now works for the Garden as a community relations coordinator.

She said when Marbury later sent her a text message saying he wanted more, she did not respond.

Marbury had testified earlier in the trial that he and Decker had other encounters after the initial night.

Cudmore testified that Browne Sanders was unsparing in her harsh assessment of fellow executives, ranging from a marketing executive to the team's vice president of season ticket sales. He said the former Northwestern basketball star called other MSG executives buffoons and wimps and sprinkled profanities liberally.

Cudmore said he saw only cordial interactions, free of profanities, between Thomas and Browne Sanders at several team financial meetings.

Cudmore said Browne Sanders' annual salary was raised to $260,000 as she was given more budgetary responsibilities in 2005.

He said she began failing at financial tasks, causing problems at three strategic planning meetings, a quarterly forecast meeting and two budget meetings that drew the attention of Steve Mills, MSG Sports' president and chief executive officer.

"He was very disappointed," Cudmore recalled. "He was angry. These were people he had hired. He was angry. He was frustrated."

On multiple occasions, Browne Sanders had failed to adequately explain her budget and why it needed to be different from the previous year. As a result, she failed to gain approval for the team's budget for the next year at two separate meetings, he said.

As part of her lawsuit, Browne Sanders has asked for her job back, saying MSG retaliated against her by firing her for speaking out about sexual harassment.

The Garden claims she was dismissed in January 2006 for a failure to "fulfill professional responsibilities."

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report

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