The Knicks are having a bad year. Isiah Thomas’s bad karma isn’t helping. In October 2007, a New York jury returned a verdict against Thomas and Madison Square Garden (MSG) for sexual harassment. In a rare move only reserved for the most egregious of cases, the jury levied a punitive damages award of $11.6 million. In doing so, MSG received a clear message to clean up their act.
In 2000, the plaintiff, Anucha Browne Sanders, was hired by the New York Knicks as a marketing executive. In 2002, she received a promotion to Senior Vice President of Marketing. Thomas’ tenure commenced in December 2003. Shortly thereafter, the sexual harassment began. In January, MSG fired Sanders after she repeatedly reported Thomas’ inappropriate conduct.
Declaring the verdict a “travesty of justice,” MSG vowed to appeal. The case was slated to resume in early-December before U.S. District Judge Gerard E. Lynch. Among the issues to be decided were Sanders’ compensatory damages, which would involve a combination of lost back wages and future loss of income. Looming overhead was also the millions of dollars in legal fees that the Knicks would have to pay to Sanders’ attorney.
Realizing that their defense didn’t have a leg to stand on, the Knicks wisely chose to settle the matter instead. In settling, MSG avoided paying Sanders’ legal fees and amassing more legal fees of their own. Reports indicate that MSG didn’t catch much of a break on the punitive damages award. The final figure is rumored at $11.5 million — only about $100,000 less than the jury’s verdict.