Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Thomas, MSG liable for sexual harassment
The jury in the Anucha Browne Sanders/New York Knicks sexual harassment trial has found Thomas and Madison Square Garden (which owns the Knicks) liable for sexual harassment and discrimination. No damages have been set. MSG was held liable for punitive damages (which will require a further round of testimony and evidence), although Thomas was not. ESPN reports here. Michael discussed the case in-depth here and here. Bill Simmons presents the Idiot's Guide to the case here.
I admit to some surprise at the result, simply because plaintiffs do not win these cases all that often (even the ones that do make it to trial). To no one's surprise, Thomas continued to insist he did not do the things Browne Sanders accused him of doing (or more precisely, the things that the jury found he did, in fact, do). And there always are appeals.
Two quick thoughts:
1) Much was made of the fact that the jury awarded punitive damages against MSG but not Thomas personally as a "victory" for Thomas. Speculating here, but one explanation is that the jury awarded punitive damages for the decision to fire her when she complained, rather than the harassment itself. And only MSG (through Chairman James Dolan) was responsible for that.
2) The next interesting question is what action, if any, David Stern takes on behalf of the NBA, a point that Michael discusses at length in his writings on this issue. Thomas has turned the league's marquee franchise into a punchline, while behaving towards an employee in a way that violates federal and state law. If Stern's goal is to improve the league's image, he would be hard-pressed to stand by and do nothing.
Update at 1:30 p.m. C.D.T.:
The New York Times reports that the the jury awarded $ 11.6 million in punitive damages against MSG and Dolan personally--$ 6 million for the hostile environment (which Thomas created and MSG did not stop), $ 5.6 for the retaliatory firing. Dolan must pay $ 3 million of the punitives personally, MSG the rest. The Times also clarifies that the jury hung on the issue of punitive damages against Thomas personally; the jury did not find that Thomas was not liable for punitives. Compensatory damages to be determined.