Isiah Thomas does not deserve to be the president and coach of an NBA franchise, the former New York Knicks executive who won a sexual-harassment lawsuit against her former employer told TODAY on Wednesday.
Anucha Browne Sanders, the soft-spoken former vice president for marketing for the Knicks, at first tried to deflect questions about Thomas’ future with the team, saying that wasn’t her call.
“I’ll let [Madison Square] Garden and the fan base decide,” she said.
TODAY co-host Matt Lauer, however, pressed the question, asking, “Do you in your heart believe he deserves to be the coach and general manager of an NBA franchise?”
“I would say not,” she said. “I don’t.”
On Tuesday, after a trial that provided daily fodder for New York’s insatiable tabloids, a jury found that Madison Square Garden and its owner, cable magnate James Dolan, were liable for $11.6 million in damages for firing Browne Sanders last year.
The jury ordered Dolan to pay $3 million of the judgment, but was unable to decide whether Thomas was financially liable or not. Browne Sanders did not say whether she would pursue damages against Thomas in another trial or not, although her lawyer said she might.
After the jury’s decision, Thomas told reporters, “I am innocent. I am very innocent.”
Asked her reaction to that, Browne Sanders said, “A jury of our peers found him to be responsible. That’s all we really have to go on.”
The former executive said that she knew going in that her credibility would be a central issue.
“I was happy that the jury believed me because I’ve been telling the truth from the beginning,” she told Lauer. “My story’s been consistent.
It was my word against the other person’s word. Because these were matters that happened in private. I’m happy the jury believed me.”
She said that the fact that she told friends and associates about Thomas’ behavior helped. “I think what was clear was that there were people that I told pretty consistently about what was happening,” she said.
Victory for all women
Browne Sanders, a former star basketball player at Northwestern University, said that Thomas created a hostile work environment, calling her a “bitch” and a “ho.” When she complained, he professed his love for her and asked her to go to bed with him. When she complained to Dolan, the team owner fired her.
In a taped deposition played during the trial, Dolan admitted that he fired Browne Sanders after she complained about Thomas’ behavior. The team owner said keeping Browne Sanders on the job would have been bad for morale.
Thomas, also in a taped deposition, said that it’s not as offensive for a black man to call a black woman a “bitch” as it would be for a white man to do that.
“Not as much, I’m sorry to say,” he said on the tape. “I do make that distinction.”
Browne Sanders said that she’s gotten a lot of support — and gratitude — from other women during the trial. “I’ve heard from many women — people I know people I don’t know — who have said, ‘You’re standing up for every working mother, every working woman in America and thank you.’ That’s been a consistent message,” she said.
She said that the atmosphere she encountered at Madison Square Garden doesn’t have to exist. “I don’t believe that this happens in every environment. Corporate America has been very progressive,” she told Lauer. “I spent 11 years at IBM, and I thought it was a fantastic work environment. And they upheld the values and guidelines they put in place for both women and men.”
Jobless for some time after she was fired, Browne Sanders, who is married with three teenage children including a 13-year-old daughter, moved with her family to Buffalo, where she is the associate athletic director at the University of Buffalo. She said she demanded justice for other working woman and also for her children.
“I want them to know I love them,” she said, “and this was also done for them, so in their work environments, when they grow up, they feel secure and like it’s a civil work space.”