|Verdict in Thomas trial may send message to sports world|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 03 October 2007 12:16|
NEW YORK (AP) -Even with a $11.6 million sexual harassment judgment against New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, Madison Square Garden has shown no signs of contrition.|
Garden CEO James Dolan will soon have to defend against a similar lawsuit brought by a New York Rangers cheerleader, who has accused her Garden bosses of having her instruct fellow cheerleaders to look more ``doable.''
The Garden has vowed to fight the case.
But some legal experts who were closely watching the Thomas trial predict that the verdict won by fired Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders will send a message that locker room behavior cannot be tolerated in team offices.
``I don't think it will fail to resonate across the world of professional sports,'' Fred Nance, a sports law attorney who represents NBA star LeBron James, said Wednesday.
That's the message Browne Sanders was hoping to send.
In a television interview Wednesday, she said she hoped her victory was a ``wake-up call'' for corporate America as well as sexually harassed women.
``I hope it has an impact ... for employers across industry to take heed and pay attention and take responsibility for the workplace,'' Browne Sanders said, adding she hoped her case also would embolden women to speak up about workplace abuse.
``Silence never makes change,'' she said.
Nance and other observers were struck by the fact that the jury of four women and three men singled out Dolan as a main culprit, recognizing that the tone for the workplace is set at the top.
The jurors found the MSG chairman fired Browne Sanders out of spite and should pay $3 million out of his own pocket as punishment. Thomas, meanwhile, pays nothing.
Considering the outcome, the Garden also owes it to shareholders and the public to require sensitivity training ``from the very top on down through its leadership,'' said Jay Waks, who heads the labor law division of the firm Kaye Scholer. ``Prudence in dealing with this boorish behavior ... requires no less.''
No delicacy was evident at the three-week trial that ended Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan.
In the Knicks' universe, according to plaintiff's lawyers, Thomas could address Browne Sanders as ``bitch'' and ``ho'' and get away with it; star guard Stephon Marbury could bed an intern and still be coddled by Thomas; upper management could draw up rules against sexual harassment and fail to enforce them.
Jurors were shown a videotaped deposition in which Dolan, wearing a black T-shirt and slouched in his chair, portrayed Browne Sanders - once a rising star in the organization - as an incompetent malcontent who offended him by demanding a $6 million severance package. He personally made the decision to can her from her $260,000-a-year job without consulting a lawyer, he said.
On the witness stand, Dolan's testimony could have left the impression he had a lax attitude about vulgarities: Asked if he had ever heard Thomas curse, he replied, ``I'm sure I have.'' Asked if he would admonish Thomas if he heard him call the plantiff ``bitch,'' he responded, ``Possibly.''
Defense attorneys sought to portray Browne Sanders, a 44-year-old former Northwestern basketball star, as tough enough for professional basketball's boys club - scheming, foul-mouthed and physically imposing.
``She's a tall woman - with heels on, taller than Isiah Thomas,'' said Thomas' attorney, Kathleen Bogas.
``The playbook is to smear the plaintiff,'' said Peratis, who represents the woman in the Rangers cheerleader case.
``In this case, it completely backfired,'' she said. ``That's not going to change everything overnight, but we all take a lesson away from a case that's so hotly contested and so hotly reported.''
Like the Browne Sanders case, the cheerleader case already has gotten ugly.
The plaintiff, former head cheerleader Courtney Prince, has accused her Garden bosses of having her instruct fellow cheerleaders to stuff their bras and lose weight to look more sexually appealing.
MSG, in court papers, berated Prince for ``her own crass, sexualized behavior'' and promised a vigorous defense.
The Garden also issued a similarly combative statement Tuesday regarding the Thomas verdict.
``We believe that the jury's decision was incorrect,'' the Garden said. ``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.''
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