Lawyers Trade Allegations In Isiah Thomas Sexual Harassment Case

Thursday, September 27th 2007, 6:39 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The owner of the New York Knicks dismissed a top female executive solely in retaliation for accusing head coach Isiah Thomas of boorish behavior and to scare other unhappy employees, a lawyer said Thursday in closing arguments at the sexual harassment trial.

Madison Square Garden ``completely fabricated its reasons for firing'' Anucha Browne Sanders, the plaintiff in the $10 million lawsuit, said her attorney, Anne Vladeck.

In their closing arguments, defense lawyers argued Browne Sanders was doomed by her own failure to adapt to an organizational shake up that began with Thomas's hiring in 2004.

Vladeck argued the firing was meant ``to impose fear in every Garden employee who may want to complain, particularly about a star'' and send the message, ``You will be attacked on every level: your integrity, character, honesty and competence.''

At the trial in Manhattan federal court, Browne Sanders leveled accusations _ denied by Thomas _ that he routinely addressed her as ``bitch'' and ``ho'' during private meetings. Such conduct ``may be OK at the Garden, but it's not OK under the law,'' Vladeck said.

MSG and its chief executive, James Dolan, should be forced to pay punitive damages because money ``is the language the defendants understand,'' the lawyer told a jury of five women and three men.

Earlier Thursday, MSG attorney Ronald Green claimed a series of clashes with Thomas and star guard Stephon Marbury, poor job performance and personal financial woes put her in a precarious position that prompted her to make false claims.

``That's not about sexual harassment,'' he said. ``That's about team politics.''

Thomas's attorney argued that Browne Sanders defied logic by testifying that the once-abusive coach did an abrupt about-face, declaring his love for her and suggesting a liaison ``off site.''

``Interesting term _ 'off site,''' said the lawyer, Kathleen Bogas. ``Not particularly romantic. One would expect, 'Let's have dinner.' 'Let's have lunch.' 'Let's have a drink together.' But 'Let's go off site'?''

The defense also argued that extensive testimony about Marbury's admitted tryst with an MSG intern _ meant to demonstrate an environment of harassment _ really was a side show.

``What does that have to do with Isiah Thomas? Nothing,'' Bogas said.

The jury was expected to begin deliberations Friday.

Browne Sanders, a 44-year-old former Northwestern University basketball star, says she was dismissed in 2005 because she dared to accuse Thomas of routinely using vulgar language in his first year and of later making unwanted sexual advances toward her. She seeks reinstatement to a job as vice president of marketing, which paid as much as $260,000 annually.

On Wednesday, Thomas calmly testified that his contact with Browne Sanders was infrequent and usually friendly and respectful.

Degrading a woman with foul language ``is never OK,'' he said. ``It is never appropriate.''