Former Knicks executive awarded $11.6 million in sexual-harassment suit

A jury in federal district court in Manhattan awarded Anucha Browne Sanders $11.6 million in punitive damages in her claim against Knicks coach Isiah Thomas for harassing her, and against Madison Square Garden, L.P. and the chairman of Cablevision, the parent company of the Knicks and MSG, for allowing a hostile work environment and firing her when she complained. The jury, which was unable to agree on whether Thomas should have to pay damages individually, will decide on compensatory damages (for things like back pay and benefits and other economic loss) later.

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.

My speculation is that the jury had trouble with assessing damages for Thomas because he may not have been in any kind of supervisory relationship with Browne Sanders. However, if your employer knows you’re being a douchebag to the other employees, they’re supposed to step in. Not that it sounds like they had much interest in stepping in, given the kind of atmosphere they encouraged among the players:

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.

Here’s the basic allegation Browne Sanders made:

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.

And doesn’t this sound familiar?

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

The Garden and Dolan and Thomas will, of course, appeal this ruling, so it’s not over yet. But I do like what Browne Sanders had to say:

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.”

Exactly. Good for her.

H/T: Norbizness.
Unintentional hilarity of the day, from a correction at the bottom of the Times article: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of a 2005 sexual encounter between Stephon Marbury of the Knicks and a team intern. Mr. Marbury testified that it took place in his truck, not in the trunk of his car.

I was gonna say: must have been a big trunk.

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8 comments for “Former Knicks executive awarded $11.6 million in sexual-harassment suit

  1. October 2, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    How can one “interfere with” one’s own sexual harassment complaint? I can imagine she might have been asking about its progress or something. An entirely understandable behaviour.

  2. Sophist, FCD
    October 3, 2007 at 4:14 am

    I was gonna say: must have been a big trunk.

    One of the perks of buying an American-made land-yacht, I guess.

  3. October 3, 2007 at 10:56 am

    $11 million?? There’s no winning, is there. If they’re awarded a pittance, we’ll all be understandably upset. But then, if people get a sum out of that which exceeds by orders of magnitude what most women will make in their lifetime, won’t there be gut reactions like, “Gee, I’d take a year or two of harassment if it meant I wouldn’t have to worry about money for the rest of my life”? That seems a tad counterproductive too. (But then of course it seems a travesty to me that someone should be making $260,000 p.a. to begin with.)
    Disclaimer: Of course, I don’t have a clue about the US system; for all I know, most of it might go to her lawyers, which would be a travesty of another kind, I suppose. And yes, I hereby solemnly vow not to ever again post before coffee.

  4. zuzu
    October 3, 2007 at 11:14 am

    Azundris, the $11 million is in punitive damages, which are not designed to be a windfall for a plaintiff, but are designed to discourage the defendant from doing whatever it is that got it in trouble in the first place.

    In any event, that will probably be lowered through post-trial motions.

    And yes, her lawyers will get a percentage. And why not? It’s an awful lot of work to put a trial together, and obviously the jury felt that her lawyers did a good job.

  5. S.H.
    October 3, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    Azundris, the $11 million is in punitive damages, which are not designed to be a windfall for a plaintiff, but are designed to discourage the defendant from doing whatever it is that got it in trouble in the first place.

    And let’s not forget this scumbag who harassed her still has his job…

  6. October 3, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    zuzu, please clarify, who gets the money?

  7. zuzu
    October 3, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    The plaintiff will get the money, but the point of it isn’t to enrich her. Ultimately, it has that effect, of course, but punitive damages are the jury’s way of sending the message to the defendant that it fucked up, bigtime.

    Like I said, though, those damages usually get lowered by the court later on if the defendant can show that they’re excessive.

    The idea that an award like this will cause other people to sue is a common one used by people who want to see fewer lawsuits against corporations, but it’s not like you can get very far if you don’t have a good claim. And in any event, the vast majority of cases are settled out of court, with no punitive damages.

    The Knicks and MSG should have settled with her long ago; it was a real mistake to bring this to trial.

  8. October 4, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    I cheered to myself this morning when I heard that the jury had awarded Anucha Brown Sanders $10 million dollars in her sexual harassment suit against Isaiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden. In her press conference yesterday she said something like, “I brought the suit for all working women.”

    I was struck by the irony that this suit was settled the same week that Clarence Thomas is back in the news, saying that Anita Hill’s description of his illegal sexualized behavior was false.

    Like countless other women, I have been sexually harassed in the workplace and lost my job because of it. It happened more than 30 years ago when I was fired from a teaching assistant position because I said no to sex with the professor. Except in 1975, people didn’t talk about sexual harassment, instead teaching young women as one person I complained to said, “stuff like that happens to women. Look for another position. No one will believe you anyway.”

    I didn’t tell anyone else. Sixteen years later, during the Clarence hearings, people said, “She must be lying. Otherwise she would have complained about it earlier.”

    Except we didn’t — out of fear, out of shame, out of believing that it was just something that sometimes happened to women.

    Sexual harassment is now illegal in the workplace, and women and men today know better than to make degrading sexual statements or unwelcome sexual advances…that after the first “no”, all requests should cease.

    Well, not all men and women. Isaiah Thomas and James Dolan who fired Ms. Brown Sanders should have known better. May they serve as a reminder to us all.

    Rev. Debra Haffner

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