Jury rules Thomas harassed ex-executive; MSG owes her $11.6M

10/2/2007 - New York Knicks

NEW YORK -- In an end to a salacious three-week trial, a
jury ordered the owners of the New York Knicks to pay $11.6 million
to a former team executive who endured crude insults and unwanted
advances from coach Isiah Thomas.

The jury of four women and three men found Thomas and Madison
Square Garden sexually harassed Anucha Browne Sanders, but it
decided only MSG and chairman James Dolan should pay for harassing
and firing Browne Sanders from her $260,000-a-year job out of

The result: The Garden owes $6 million for condoning a hostile
work environment and $2.6 million for retaliation. Dolan owes $3
million. Though Thomas is off the hook for any damages, he leaves
the case with a tarnished image.

Outside court, a beaming Browne Sanders insisted her victory was
more about sending a message than the money.

"What I did here, I did for every working woman in America,"
she said. "And that includes everyone who gets up and goes to work
in the morning, everyone working in a corporate environment."

Earlier, Thomas emerged from the federal courthouse in lower
Manhattan with his trademark smile but flashed anger as he
reasserted his innocence amid a crush of reporters and cameras.

"I'm extremely disappointed that the jury did not see the facts
in this case," he said. "I will appeal this, and I remain
confident in the man that I am and what I stand for and the family
that I have."

MSG said it will appeal, also denying wrongdoing in a case
widely viewed as a public relations disaster for a franchise
struggling to regain credibility. The team hasn't won a playoff
game since Thomas was signed as president in December 2003 and has
wasted millions this decade on a series of free-agent busts.

The verdict also amounts to another blemish on the resume of
Thomas, a two-time NBA champion whose post-playing career has been
marked by one failure after another.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said the league's policies "do not
encompass civil litigation."

Jurors, who needed roughly two days to decide on the allegations
but only about an hour to determine damages, declined to talk about
the verdict or how they came to their decision.

In a lawsuit filed last January, the 44-year-old Browne Sanders
sought $10 million in punitive damages, but the jury was free to
deviate from that figure. The verdict also means the judge will
determine and award compensatory damages in the coming weeks.

The harassment verdict was expected after the jury sent a note
to the judge Monday indicating it believed Thomas, the Garden and
Dolan sexually harassed Browne Sanders, a married mother of three
and former vice president for marketing.

Browne Sanders is currently an associate athletic director and
senior woman administrator at the University of Buffalo.

"All of us in the Division of Athletics are thrilled to know
that Anucha has been vindicated and that both her and her family
have wrapped up this very difficult ordeal," the university said
in a statement. "We look forward to seeing her soon and, most of
all, are elated that she can move on with her life and career."

The jurors had heard Browne Sanders testify that Thomas, after
arriving as new team president, routinely addressed her as
"bitch" and "ho" in outbursts over marketing commitments. He
later did an abrupt about-face, declaring his love and suggesting
an "off-site" liaison, she said.

Thomas, while admitting to using foul language around the
plaintiff, insisted he never directed it toward her.

Degrading a woman in the workplace "is never OK," said Thomas,
a married father of two. "It is never appropriate."

Dolan and a string of other executives also took the witness
stand to deny they tolerated or witnessed sexual harassment. They
testified Browne Sanders was fired because she was incompetent on
budget matters, and because she later sought to undermine an
internal inquiry into her allegations against Thomas.

The trial also made headlines with its testimony about an
admitted tryst involving star Knicks guard Stephon Marbury and an
MSG intern, an encounter the plaintiffs' attorneys argued
demonstrated the organization's frat house mentality.

At the Knicks training camp in South Carolina on Tuesday,
Marbury and other players said it was time for the team to move
past the off-court controversy. Thomas was expected to arrive

"It's a tough situation and the only thing we can do now is go
forward," Marbury said.

Forward Malik Rose predicted the team would rally behind Dolan
and Thomas.

"We all know what kind of guy 'Mr. D' is," he said before the
jury awarded punitive damages. "We all know what kind of guy Isiah
is and how they treat us. I'm sure all you guys agree this is a
first-class organization."

MSG is owned by Cablevision Systems Corp., based in Bethpage,
N.Y., and Dolan is Cablevision's CEO. Shares fell 35 cents, or 1
percent, to $34.71 in afternoon trading.