Knicks and Coach Isiah Thomas Hit For $11.6 Million in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
The once-great New York Knicks, who experienced NBA success as recently as the late 1990s, have not had a winning team since 2000, and much of the blame of their futility over the last couple of years can be placed on President of Basketball Operations and head coach Isiah Thomas.
However, despite being notorious for unwise financial decisions involving player contracts and making poor-value trades, Thomas may have recently experienced his lowest moment off the court as a manager of the Knicks.
A New York city federal jury recently found Isiah Thomas liable for sexual harassment, and Madison Square Garden, and its chairman, James Dolan, of creating a hostile working environment, awarding plaintiff Anucha Browne Sanders a total of $11.6 million in compensation.
The sexual harassment lawsuit claimed that Browne Sanders was sexually harassed by Thomas and wrongfully terminated when she complained of Thomas' conduct, as well as that of others in the organization, to organization president Steve Mills.
In true New York Knicks fashion, the trial itself was a mess of strange occurrences and characters. A Sports Illustrated article described the bizarre and lengthy questioning sequences by both prosecuting and defense attorneys to establish points that seemed unlikely to hold up. The judge prompted the lawyers to hurry things up after one juror fell asleep.
For instance, in order to discredit Browne Sanders' claims, MSG lawyers attempted to show that she was fired for incompetence. However, the fact that she was given more than $200,000 in bonuses and glowing reviews from supervisors made their attempts futile. They had to point to e-mails in which she was criticized for personal reasons, not actual poor work.
What seemed to be the deciding factor for the jury was the fact that many current and former employees of MSG corroborated with Browne Sanders on the point that the company was a "hostile working environment." It wasn't hard to find proof; current Knicks star Stephon Marbury admitted on the witness stand that he engaged in sexual relations with an intern after a company-sponsored party at a strip club.
Due to this and other testimony in her favor, the jury agreed with Browne Sanders' assertions that Thomas treated her inappropriately with unwelcome sexual advances and verbal insults. However, the jury did not make Thomas pay a punitive damages amount himself, entrusting James Dolan and MSG to pay all of the $11.6 million verdict.
This amount included $6 million for the hostile working environment created at MSG and $5.6 million for the unlawful firing. James Dolan himself owes $3 million of the total, and MSG as a corporation with the rest.
Even after the verdict was read, Isiah Thomas maintained his innocence.
"I'm innocent, I'm very innocent, and I did not do the things she has accused me in this courtroom of doing," Thomas was reported to have said." I'm extremely disappointed that the jury did not see the facts in this case."
After all that happened in the trial, Thomas escaped with very little lost, given that he doesn't seem to care that much about his reputation. With no punitive damages to be paid, no criminal charges being pressed, and no sign from Knicks' management that he will be fired over the matter, it seems that Thomas is nearly invincible as he continues to steer the Knicks ship on a steady course of mediocrity and disgrace.