terça-feira, 2 de outubro de 2007

Jury Awards $11.6 Million to Former Knicks Executive

Published: October 2, 2007

A jury ruled today that Isiah Thomas, the coach of the New York Knicks, sexually harassed a former team executive and that Madison Square Garden, the owner of the team, improperly fired her for complaining about the unwanted advances.

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Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

Anucha Browne Sanders left federal court in Manhattan after she was awarded $11.6 million by a jury.

John Marshall Mantel/Associated Press

Isiah Thomas outside federal court in Manhattan after the verdict.

Chip East/Reuters

Isiah Thomas entering federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday.

The jury, in federal district court in Manhattan, also ruled that the former executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, is entitled to $11.6 million in punitive damages from the Garden and James L. Dolan, the chairman of Cablevision, the parent company of the Garden and the Knicks.

Of that figure, $6 million was awarded because of the hostile work environment Mr. Thomas was found to have created, and $5.6 million because Ms. Browne Sanders was fired for complaining about it. Mr. Dolan’s share is $3 million; the Garden is liable for the rest.

The judge will decide later on compensatory damages, covering actual economic harm suffered by Ms. Browne Sanders, like back pay and benefits.

The jurors were not able to decide whether Ms. Browne Sanders should be paid damages by Mr. Thomas, so on that matter, the judge ruled a mistrial, a partial victory for the coach.

After the hearing, Mr. Thomas emerged from the courtroom and addressed the throng of media that has followed the case, which presented an unsavory behind-the-scenes view of the team.

“I want to say it as loud as I possibly can,” Mr. Thomas said. “I am innocent. I’m very innocent. I did not do the things that she accused me in the courtroom of doing.

“I am extremely disappointed that the jury did not see the facts in this case,” he said, patting his chest for emphasis. “I will appeal this.”

Officials from the Garden issued a statement after the verdicts.

“We believe that the jury’s decision was incorrect and plan to vigorously appeal the verdict,” the statement said. “We look forward to presenting our arguments to an appeals court and believe they will agree that no sexual harassment took place and that Madison Square Garden acted properly.

“The normal operations of M.S.G. and the New York Knicks will continue unabated, and we will have no further comments until the appeals process has concluded.”

After the punitive damages were announced, Ms. Browne Sanders appeared outside the courtroom and said the decision was important not just for herself, but also for “the women who don’t have the means and couldn’t possibly have done what I was able to do” and for “everybody that cares about working in a civil work environment.”

Today’s verdicts are the latest embarrassment for the Knicks, who have floundered in recent years. The team has had six head coaches since 2001, has only made the playoffs once in that time, and has signed numerous expensive players who have flopped.

During the trial, testimony by witnesses made the inner workings of the Garden appear dysfunctional, hostile and lewd. The Knick’s star guard, Stephon Marbury, testified that he had sex with a team intern in his truck after a group outing to a strip club in 2005.

Late Monday afternoon, the jury passed a note to United States District Court Judge Gerard E. Lynch, saying they had decided on eight of the points, but could not reach agreement on the final point — whether Mr. Thomas should pay damages to Ms. Browne Sanders.

Shortly before 5 p.m. Judge Lynch called the jury into the courtroom, thanked them for their work, and asked them to return for one more day to try and come to a unanimous decision on the charge.

This morning, however, the jury of four women and three men said they were still split on that question, so the judge declared a mistrial on that issue.

Ms. Browne Sanders, 44, was fired in February 2006 from her position as the Knicks’ vice president for marketing and business operations. She contended that the firing was in retaliation for her sexual harassment complaint.

She testified that Mr. Thomas, 46, subjected her to hostility and sexual advances starting in 2004, after he arrived as team president. She was fired from her $260,000-a-year job by Mr. Dolan, the chairman of the Garden as well as of Cablevision, in 2006.

The Garden countered that Ms. Browne Sanders was fired for incompetence and for interfering with the investigation of her sexual harassment complaint.

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