MSG, Thomas settle lawsuit with compensatory damages looming

Updated: December 11, 2007, 5:29 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Madison Square Garden and New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas reached an $11.5 million settlement of the sexual harassment case brought by a former team executive.

The deal came Monday as Anucha Browne Sanders was preparing to return to U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where her description of her ordeal with the Knicks exposed the club's tawdry side, from its dysfunctional clubhouse to the sexual exploits of star Stephon Marbury with an intern.

A jury awarded her $11.6 million in punitive damages. This deal replaces that.

"I am extremely pleased that we have reached a settlement," Browne Sanders said in a statement. "The jury's verdict in this case sent a powerful and enduring message that harassment and retaliation at Madison Square Garden will not be tolerated. ... It has been a long journey, but I believe that justice has been done."

The case was supposed to resume this week before U.S. District Judge Gerard E. Lynch, who was set to decide how much Browne Sanders was owed in compensatory damages, a payout that usually involves lost wages and future loss of income. The Knicks also faced the possibility they might be ordered to pay what was likely to be millions of dollars in legal fees.

By settling, the Knicks avoided paying her legal fees, while Browne Sanders gets her money faster and avoids the possibility of having her award reduced on appeal.

"The NBA is pleased that the parties have agreed to a settlement that dismisses the litigation," NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement released Tuesday. "I had previously determined not to consider any action against the Knicks while the litigation was still pending, which, with appeals, could have been several years.

"In light of the settlement, which I strongly supported, I have decided to take no further action. Instead, we are going to continue to focus our attention on a league-wide program ensuring that all teams have appropriate policies, clearly communicated to their employees, focusing on respect in the workplace including the prohibition of sexual harassment."

Although Browne Sanders had demanded the right to resume working for the Knicks, one of her lawyers, Kevin Mintzer, said she will continue working at the University of Buffalo as an associate athletic director and senior woman administrator.

Isiah Thomas
AP Photo/Seth WenigIsiah Thomas maintains his innocence, but his employer decided to settle.

"As I have said before, I am completely innocent," Thomas said. "This decision doesn't change that. However, this is the best course for Madison Square Garden, and I fully support it."

Because the jury was unable to reach a verdict on one of the accusations against Thomas, the possibility of another trial loomed. It would have brought with it another wave of negative publicity about the team and the off-court escapades that made the first trial a feeding frenzy for those interested in the inner workings of one of the NBA's most storied franchises.

"We don't feel any less strongly than we did throughout the entire episode," MSG said in a statement. "The outcome was a travesty of justice, and we vehemently disagree with the jury's decision, however, at the strong request of [the NBA commissioner] and in the interest of focusing on basketball, we can all agree that it is time for us to move on and put this issue behind us."

Thomas reserved most of his comments on Monday for the Knicks' challenges on the court. New York entered Monday's game in last place in the Atlantic Division and remained there after a 99-89 loss to Dallas.

"It's a city and a place unlike anyplace else in the NBA," the coach told reporters. "It's the most difficult place to win and the most challenging. Every game is the season, and that's the unique passion New York brings. The people here are thirsty, they want it, and it really brings out the best in you. You have to bring it every day, whether you're a coach, a player or a guy trying to get on the subway.

"You can see it when the city shuts down, whether it's a transit strike, a blackout, but no matter what happens the average guy gets up and goes to work. People find a way to get it done. It's a hard place, but like they say, if you can make it there you can make it anywhere, and that's damn true."

Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan gave Thomas a vote of confidence after Saturday's blowout loss to the 76ers.

"Jim is behind Isiah the same way he was behind Glen Sather in the 2003-04 season, when circumstances were similar," a high-ranking team official told The New York Times, referring to the Rangers' president.

Information from ESPN.com NBA Insider Chris Sheridan and The Associated Press was used in this report.