Jury Awards $11.6 Million to Ex-Knicks Executive A federal jury has found that New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas sexually harassed Anucha Browne Sanders, a former top executive of the Knicks, by subjecting her to unwanted advances and insults. Madison Square Garden and its chairman are ordered to pay $11.6 million in damages.
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Jury Awards $11.6 Million to Ex-Knicks Executive

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Jury Awards $11.6 Million to Ex-Knicks Executive


Jury Awards $11.6 Million to Ex-Knicks Executive

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A big ruling in federal court today against Madison Square Garden. The jury found that a former executive of the New York Knicks was sexually harassed by her bosses, including coach Isiah Thomas. And the jury awarded Anucha Browne Sanders $11.6 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

From New York, here is NPR's Mike Pesca.

MIKE PESCA: More than the basketball team was rotten within Madison Square Garden. That, in a nutshell, was the finding of a Manhattan jury this afternoon.

Anucha Browne Sanders, the Knicks' former vice president of marketing and business operations, prevailed in a trial that sully the reputations of Knicks' coach Isiah Thomas and Knicks' owner James Dolan.

Thomas was not found liable for punitive damages, but the jury did say he harassed Browne Sanders, herself a former college basketball star. After the trial, Thomas spoke to reporters.

Mr. ISIAH THOMAS (Coach, New York Knicks): Everybody can get a little closer so you can hear me because I want to say it as loud as I possibly can. I'm innocent. I'm very innocent. And I did not do the things that she accused me in this courtroom of doing.

PESCA: But later, Browne Sanders proclaimed victory for herself, for other workingwomen and for this group.

Ms. ANUCHA BROWNE SANDERS (Former Vice President for Marketing and Business Operations, New York Knicks): It's for every man in the corporate environment who does act like a professional and everyone who sends a sister to work every day, a mother to work every day, a daughter to work every day. And it's for also the women who don't have the means and couldn't possibly have done what I was able to do.

PESCA: Browne Sanders testified that she was repeatedly cursed at and hit on. Thomas denied cursing at Browne Sanders but said, he cursed while she was around. In a deposition, he said that a white man calling a black woman a bitch was worse than a black man doing the same. A season ticket holder testified that he saw Thomas put his arm around Browne Sanders and complement her appearance, causing her to grow uncomfortable.

All these reflected rather disastrously on James Dolan, the billionaire CEO of Cablevision, which owns the Knicks.

In a videotaped deposition played at the trial, Dolan sat slumped in a chair wearing a black crewneck shirt with the sleeves pushed up. He smiled and chuckled as the plaintiff's lawyer questioned him.

(Soundbite of videotaped deposition)

Ms. ANNE VLADECK (Anucha Browne Sanders' Counsel): Is it appropriate for someone to refer to another employee as a black bitch or a bitch?

Mr. JAMES DOLAN (CEO, Cablevision; Owner, New York Knicks): No, it's not appropriate. It's also not appropriate to murder anyone. I don't know if that's happened either.

PESCA: Laughing off this case may have been MSG's undoing. Cablevision is valued by the stock market to be worth more than $10 billion. When Browne Sanders left the Garden, she offered to drop her suit for $6 million. She was rebuffed. But the jury award shouldn't be very damaging to the overall health of the company.

Thomas Eagan, an analyst who covers the cable industry for Oppenheimer & Co., says the Knicks are but a tiny portion of the overall business of Cablevision. It also turns out that this incident shouldn't shake investor confidence in the executives running the company because the Dolans were hardly the darlings of Wall Street to begin with. Eagan says there's a phrase for that feeling.

Mr. THOMAS EAGAN (Analyst, Oppenheimer & Co.): There is what people would call and the market calls the Dolan discount on their stock, because of the Dolans often making their mercurial decisions.

PESCA: The Knicks, as a franchise, haven't had a winning record in seven years. But the lost they suffered today can't be undone with trades or draft picks. The Garden does vow to appeal.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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