In what is being called a landmark sexual harassment case, a jury Tuesday found that New York Knicks head coach Isiah Thomas sexually harassed a former team executive and that Madison Square Garden fired her out of spite for complaining about it.
The verdict awarded Anucha Browne Sanders $11.6 million in punitive damages, $2 million more than she'd asked for.
Thomas' legendary bright smile was dimmed by a jury that believed Browne Sanders' account of a frat-house environment and sexual antics that took place at Madison Square Garden.
"The breaking point for me was when I had been complaining for a year and a half. When I realized what was happening to the women around me, I said 'this is ridiculous,' that was the breaking point," Browne Sanders told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts.
She added that it is the responsibility of workplace leaders to set the standard for a comfortable working environment.
"I think it really is a wake-up call to those in a professional working environment, to those that are not civil, to let women know they have recourse," Browne Sanders told Roberts.
Browne Sanders' sexual harassment suit alleged that from the time he was hired in 2003, Thomas created a hostile workplace rife with unwanted advances. She accused him of making her uncomfortable with hugs, invitations to leave the office for trysts and kisses on the cheek.
"The only way you make change is by being there, being silent never makes change, so speak up," Browne Sanders said, encouraging women in similar situations to speak up.
She alleged that Thomas verbally harassed her, calling her sexually charged names and swearing at her crudely. In a video deposition, Thomas appears to argue that a black man can say things to a black woman that white men cannot.
"Would you find it offensive also for a black male to call a black woman a b--?" he was asked. Thomas responded, "Not as much and I'm sorry to say, I do make a distinction."
According to Browne Sanders, not only did the Knicks do nothing to end the harassment or discipline Thomas, they fired her.
Thomas and the Knicks will appeal. "I'm innocent, very innocent. I did not do what that woman charged in the courtroom," Thomas said shortly after leaving the courtroom Tuesday.
Browne Sanders, along with her husband and children, has since left New York City for Buffalo, N.Y., saying she had no choice. She is now a senior associate athletic director for marketing at the University of Buffalo.
"I complained and I was fired — it's really that simple," she said.