Madison Square Garden and New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas have asked a federal judge to drastically reduce the $11.6 million in punitive damages a jury awarded to a former Knicks executive after concluding she was sexually harassed and fired out of spite.
Anucha Browne Sanders was awarded the damages earlier this month after a three-week trial that portrayed the Knicks offices as a dysfunctional clubhouse where Browne Sanders endured profanity-laced conversations with Thomas before he turned unwanted affection toward her.
In court papers filed this week, lawyers for MSG and Chairman James Dolan said constitutional limits require the punitive award be trimmed from a “grossly excessive” amount to a figure in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, in line with comparable awards.
“Comparing the $11.6 million award in this case with other cases in which juries have awarded punitive damages … reinforces that this award is far greater than the Constitution allows,” the lawyers wrote.
The lawyers said a higher punitive damage award was not warranted because Browne Sanders was never threatened or subjected to physical violence. They said evidence only showed Thomas on isolated occasions subjected her to verbal harassment in 2004 and amorous advances in 2005.
“Indeed, not only was there no evidence at trial of physical harm to plaintiff, there was also no evidence of economic harm,” they said.
Thomas also asked that a jury’s finding that he aided and abetted the hostile environment is tossed out, or that a new trial is ordered.
The trial was marked by evidence that Browne Sanders had complained of foul language and oppressive behavior by Thomas before she was fired from her $260,000-a-year job.
Kevin Mintzer, a lawyer for Browne Sanders, said the MSG response was par for the course.
“They’ve lost. They want a delay and they don’t want to pay, but we’re prepared to pursue this for as long as it takes,” he said.
Browne Sanders, a former vice president for marketing, is a 44-year-old former Northwestern University basketball star. She is married with three children.
Thomas, while admitting to using foul language around Browne Sanders, insisted he never directed it toward her.
A judge will determine and award compensatory damages in the coming weeks.
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