Former basketball marketing executive Anucha Browne Sanders was awarded $11.6 million in punitive damages in a sexual harassment suit against Madison Square Garden L.P. and her former boss, Knicks President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Isiah Thomas. But when it’s all said and done, Browne Sanders could end up with nearly $20 million, including front pay, which compensates the plaintiff for lost future earnings, back pay, tarnished reputation, and compensatory damages. Asked if she believed she took appropriate action against the organization, she responded: “Absolutely.”
“I complained about sexual harassment, and I was fired. What was done to me was illegal. I felt strong in my convictions and I absolutely believed that I did the right thing when I filed the lawsuit.”
The jury agreed with Browne Sanders, 44. According to the 18-page lawsuit she filed, she was repeatedly called a “bitch” and a “ho” by Thomas.
Browne Sanders also charged that Thomas sexually harassed her immediately after he arrived as team president for the Knicks in 2003 and when she ignored his advances he exhibited hostility toward her. In one interaction, he professed his love for her and suggested they go away and have sex, the lawsuit stated.
During the highly publicized, three-week trial, Thomas, 46, denied those allegations. In fact, he said he was “extremely disappointed that the jury failed to see the truth in this case.
“I didn’t do what she said I did,” Thomas said in a prepared press statement. “I am innocent. I remain confident in the truth and am committed to appealing this decision and clearing my good name.”
Thomas, who was named on black enterprise’s 50 Most Powerful Blacks in Sports list, plans to appeal the case.
Attorney Karen Cacace, partner at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard P.C., who worked on Browne Sanders’ legal team, says her client has won punitive damages and now U.S. District Court Judge Gerard E. Lynch will decide how much she deserves on compensatory damages.
“The judge will schedule a hearing and make a determination on economic damages and lost earnings,” Cacace explains.
In punitive damages, Madison Square Garden owes Browne Sanders $6 million for condoning the hostile work environment and an additional $2.6 million for retaliation. James Dolan, MSG Chairman, owes $3 million. Thomas was not personally required to pay Browne Sanders.
There is speculation that compensatory damages could include nearly $600,000 in back pay and nearly $10 million for lost wages and her tarnished reputation, which could increase Browne Sanders’ lawsuit pay day to more than $20 million. That court date had been scheduled for Dec. 13 at press time.
Dolan could not be reached for comment, but MSG officials faxed be a prepared statement: “We believe that the jury’s decision was incorrect and plan to vigorously appeal the verdict. We look forward to presenting our arguments to an appeals court and believe they will agree that no sexual harassment took place and MSG acted properly.”
Browne Sanders says she is pleased with the verdict and believes that her victory is one for all working women