Former Knicks Executive Who Sued MSG Settles

Tuesday, December 11th 2007, 7:06 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden could look at it in this way: They saved at least $100,000 by settling for $11.5 million the sexual harassment case brought by a former team executive.

A jury awarded Anucha Browne Sanders $11.6 million in punitive damages in October. But she agreed to settle for just $100,000 less, a person familiar with the deal said Monday. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the terms of the deal weren't immediately released by either side.

The deal came as Browne Sanders prepared to return to U.S. District Court in Manhattan this week for the compensatory damages phase of her civil trial.

Browne Sanders' testimony of her ordeal with the Knicks, which she said included crude insults and unwanted advances from Thomas, exposed the club's tawdry side, from its dysfunctional clubhouse to its star player's sexual exploits with a team intern.

Besides the $9.6 million sought by Browne Sanders in compensatory damages, the Knicks had been facing the possibility they might be ordered to pay what was likely to be millions of dollars in legal fees. By settling, the Knicks avoid that, while Brown Sanders gets her money faster and avoids the possibility of having her award reduced on appeal.

Browne Sanders said she was ``extremely pleased'' to have settled.

``The jury's verdict in this case sent a powerful and enduring message that harassment and retaliation at Madison Square Garden will not be tolerated,'' she said in a statement. ``It has been a long journey, but I believe that justice has been done.''

MSG said: ``We don't feel any less strongly than we did throughout the entire episode. The outcome was a travesty of justice, and we vehemently disagree with the jury's decision, however, at the strong request of (the NBA commissioner) and in the interest of focusing on basketball, we can all agree that it is time for us to move on and put this issue behind us.''

Thomas added: ``As I have said before, I am completely innocent. This decision doesn't change that. However, this is the best course for Madison Square Garden, and I fully support it.''

Testimony about the off-court escapades made the trial a feeding frenzy for those interested in the inner workings of one of the NBA's most storied franchises.

Browne Sanders, a 44-year-old former Northwestern University basketball star, says she was dismissed last year because she dared to accuse Thomas of routinely using vulgar language before making unwanted sexual advances toward her. She had sought reinstatement to a job as vice president of marketing, which paid as much as $260,000 a year.

Trial evidence portrayed Thomas as a swaggering, cursing bully who first tried to intimidate Browne Sanders with brutish language after his 2003 arrival but later showered her with insincere affection.

Stephon Marbury, recruited by Thomas, was described as a pampered star guard who had sex with an intern inside his truck one night after romancing her by asking: ``Are you going to get in the truck?''

Thomas has repeatedly disputed the allegations but had to endure boos on the basketball court even before his team launched its new season with a string of lopsided losses.

Stern told ESPN that the Knicks' handling of the lawsuit ``demonstrates that they're not a model of intelligent management.''

The settlement means the end to legal proceedings in the case, which was supposed to resume before U.S. District Judge Gerard E. Lynch this week. The judge was set to decide how much Browne Sanders was owed in compensatory damages, a payout that usually involves lost wages and future loss of income.

Although Browne Sanders had demanded the right to resume working for the Knicks, one of her lawyers, Kevin Mintzer, said she will continue working at the University of Buffalo as an associate athletic director.

Because the jury was unable to reach a verdict on one of the accusations against Thomas, the possibility of another trial loomed. It would have brought with it another wave of negative publicity about the team.