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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

MSG/Isiah Thomas Case Delivers Another Black Eye to the NBA

The Tim Donaghy scandal caused many people to question the credibility of the NBA's on court product, so the last thing that the league needs is something to give people pause about the way it conducts its business off the court--but instead the NBA received another black eye in the form of a guilty verdict in Anucha Browne-Sanders' civil suit versus Madison Square Garden, the corporation that runs the New York Knicks and for whom Browne-Sanders once held an executive position. Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas was not found personally liable but MSG was ordered to pay Browne-Sanders $11.6 million in damages, $1.6 million more than the amount she asked for in her civil suit. MSG must pay $6 million for allowing a hostile work environment to exist and an additional $2.6 million for retaliating against Browne-Sanders; MSG chairman James Dolan must pay an additional $3 million.

MSG vowed to appeal the verdict and Thomas steadfastly maintained his innocence: "I'm innocent, I'm very innocent, and I did not do the things she has accused me in this courtroom of doing. I'm extremely disappointed that the jury did not see the facts in this case. 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." Browne-Sanders declared, "What I did here, I did for every working woman in America. And that includes everyone who gets up and goes to work in the morning. It's for also the women who don't have the means and couldn't possibly have done what I was able to do."

This entire case has presented the NBA in a very unsavory light, with numerous salacious details being discussed in open court. Browne-Sanders' central claim is that Thomas sexually harassed her and that MSG fired her after she complained about his conduct. The guilty verdict will no doubt provide more ammunition to those who believe that MSG should fire Thomas and it will also lead to calls for the NBA to discipline Thomas and MSG. So far, the NBA's stance appears to be that a civil proceeding requires a lower burden of proof than a criminal case and that this situation is not an actionable offense for the league. As NBA spokesman Tim Frank put it, NBA policies "do not encompass civil litigation." That said, for years the media has had no problem distorting Thomas' record as an executive and a coach; now Thomas' many enemies have a very real and very public stick with which to attack him. The stigma from this verdict will linger for quite some time and it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that Commissioner David Stern will decide that it is such a p.r. disaster that he simply must issue some kind of punishment in order to distance the league from the situation. Needless to say, the NBA justifiably does not want to be associated in any way with sexual harassment or with retaliating against someone who claims to be sexually harassed.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:36 PM



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