An attorney for Anucha Browne Sanders, the ex-Madison Square Garden executive who won a jury award of $11.6 million in a sexual harassment case against MSG and then-New York Knicks president Isiah Thomas, responded to statements by Thomas and MSG in recent days that questioned the jury verdict and Browne Sanders' claims that she was harassed by Thomas, who was named president and part-owner of the New York Liberty on Tuesday.
"In an attempt to rewrite history, the Garden has issued a statement about Anucha Browne Sanders' lawsuit against MSG, [MSG chairman James] Dolan and Thomas that is, at best, misleading and, at worst, a fabrication," read the statement, which was released by Browne Sanders' attorney, Anne Vladeck, and first reported by the New York Daily News.
In 2007, when Thomas was coaching the Knicks, Browne Sanders alleged that he sexually harassed her. Although Thomas maintained his innocence, a jury found that MSG, owner of the team, improperly fired her for complaining about the unwanted advances. The jury also ruled that Browne Sanders was entitled to $11.6 million in damages from MSG and Dolan.
A portion of the money ($6 million) was awarded for the hostile work environment created by Thomas. The rest of the money was awarded because Browne Sanders was found to have been fired for complaining about the environment.
Shortly after it was announced that Thomas had been named co-owner and president of the Liberty, Madison Square Garden issued a release questioning Browne Sanders' allegations and the findings of the jury.
"We did not believe the allegations then, and we don't believe them now," the statement read. "We feel strongly that Isiah Thomas was held responsible for sordid allegations that were completely unrelated to him, and for which MSG bore responsibility. In fact, when given the opportunity, the jury did not find Isiah liable for punitive damages, confirming he did not act maliciously or in bad faith. We believe Isiah belongs in basketball, and are grateful that he has committed his considerable talent to help the Liberty succeed."
Thomas, whose partial ownership of the Liberty needs to be approved by the WNBA Board of Governors, has long maintained his innocence, and reiterated that stance on Wednesday.
"I was not liable or personally held for anything, so the jury found no findings," Thomas told ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike. "... Anyone who's vetted this has looked at it, and has come out and found, as the jury found there were no findings in terms of Isiah Thomas."
Responding to claims by both Thomas and Madison Square Garden, Vladeck's statement read, "The Garden describes what occurred to Browne Sanders as mere 'allegations' and further claims that these 'allegations' were 'completely unrelated to [Thomas].' In fact, a jury, after hearing all of the evidence, including Thomas's self-serving denials, found that Thomas 'intentionally discriminated against [Browne Sanders] by aiding and abetting a hostile environment based on sex.' ... The Garden's suggestion that the jury somehow exonerated Thomas by failing to award punitive damages against him is simply untrue. To the contrary, six of the seven jurors voted to assess punitive damages against Thomas personally. Had the defendants not settled after the verdict, Thomas would have had to face a retrial on that issue."
Madison Square Garden and Browne Sanders later settled for $11.5 million. Then-NBA commissioner David Stern reportedly encouraged MSG to settle the case rather than pursue an appeal.
"While it is not our practice to issue statements to respond to or correct the many erroneous comments over the years, the Garden's recent statement is so beyond what any truthful report could say, that the record needs to be corrected," the statement released by Browne Sanders' attorney concluded. "Sadly, it appears that those who do not learn from the past will be condemned to repeat it."