A jury found yesterday that New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden sexually harassed former team executive Anucha Browne Sanders.
The jury panel of four women and three men found MSG liable, ruling that it must pay $11.6 million in damages to Browne Sanders, but decided against making Thomas pay any punitive damages.
Jury deliberations began last Friday, and on Monday the jury indicated in a note to the judge that it would likely deliver a verdict in favor of Browne Sanders, a serious blow to the Knicks franchise.
Thomas, whose future with the Knicks has now been placed in jeopardy, said in a statement to the press after the verdict's delivery, "I am extremely disappointed that the jury failed to see the truth in this case -- that I never sexually harassed Anucha Browne Sanders and had nothing to do with her being fired. I didn't do what she said I did. I am innocent."
Before leaving without taking questions, Thomas also said, "I remain confident in the truth and am committed to appealing this decision and clearing my good name. During this period I will focus on the basketball operations of the New York Knicks and will have no further comment on this case."
MSG followed Thomas with a statement of its own, which read: "We believe that the jury's decision was incorrect and plan to appeal the verdict. We look forward to presenting our arguments to an appeals court, and believe they will agree that no sexual harrasment took place and MSG acted properly. The normal operations of Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks will continue unabated and we will have no further comment until the process has concluded."
After the verdict Browne Sanders stood in front of the courthouse praying in a circle with her lawyers and family. Praising the jury's decision, she said, "First and foremost I thank the jury for seeking the truth … My family for support, and my law team. The only statement I want to make is what I did here I did for every woman in America, for everyone who sends their daughter to work every day."
Browne Sanders sued the Garden and Thomas for $10 million, claiming that she was sexually harassed by Thomas and wrongfully terminated when she complained about it to her bosses. She alleged that Thomas made sexual suggestions while coming on to her, and used foul language to describe her to others.
During his second day on the stand, Thomas denied harassing or cursing Browne Sanders. "It's not appropriate and very offensive for any man — black, white, green, purple — to call any woman a bitch," he said.
He also denied checking out Browne Sanders during a pickup basketball contest, telling her he loved her, or that he's ever used the phrase "easy on the eyes" to describe anyone.
Claiming that he'd spent only a total of three hours with her during the two years they worked together, he also described his version of what happened at an open practice in December 2005. "Is that the no-love hug?" he laughed, when asked about the exchange.
"I walked up, put my left hand on her shoulder, leaned over, said, 'Hey Nuch,' went to give her a kiss on the cheek, and she recoiled in such a way that made me feel uncomfortable, and I said, 'What, no love today?' She backed away."
Thomas also denied allegations by Browne Sanders that he'd made racist comments about Knicks season ticket holders, such as "I don't give a ---- for these white people."