In a summer that gave us the hyper-focus on Michael Vick, the arguing over Barry Bonds, let everyone know what “making it rain” meant, and threatened the integrity of one sport (and continues to) with regard to Tim Donaghy, we’d almost forgotten something: Isiah Thomas and other higher-ups in the Knick organization are still being sued for sexual harassment, and Anucha Browne Sanders’ case goes to court today.
In court papers, Browne Sanders said that her complaints about Thomas’s behavior were not taken seriously and that the Garden retaliated by firing her in January 2006.
Thomas and Dolan have countered that Browne Sanders, a former star basketball player at Northwestern who joined the Knicks in 2000, could not adjust to working with Thomas after his hiring in late 2003. They also said that her performance dropped off significantly after she was given additional responsibilities in 2005 and that she concocted the sexual-harassment accusations when she felt that her job, which paid more than $200,000 a year, and bonuses, was in jeopardy.
The Garden said Browne Sanders’s lawyers had demanded $6.5 million to avoid a trial and that it proposed severance worth $300,000. She is suing Thomas, Dolan and the Garden for damages of $9.6 million.
The NYT goes on to talk with legal professors, stating that the retaliation case (in Sanders’ firing) is easier to prove than the original harassment. As a PR problem, this is an especially hefty one — the Knicks are still trying to crawl out of what seems to be a decade-long re-building project. If the organization does not settle the case at some point, it runs the risk of being uglier than we have any right to expect; if MSG is found liable, will it have any other recourse but to let Thomas go, no matter what he does with the Knicks? (Isiah does have them on the rebound, safe to say, as far as basketball matters go.)
If the case fans the flames of attention on the Knicks (and it will pick up steam as the NBA season gets closer and closer), what will the public impact be? Will the outrage be akin to what we have seen in response to the malfeasance of individual players? Can’t say for sure, although I suspect not. Sexual harassment cases are often “he said, she said” in nature, and there will be an urge to tiptoe around it — plus, Thomas does deserve to be considered as not liable until he or his bosses are found liable.
Matters involving the front office are always much more difficult to wrap minds around. Depending on how the first stages go, the Knicks might do well to consider settling the matter before the real media focus of pre-season comes into play.