A Case of racial Discrimination?
HR in Action Case Incident 1:
An Accusation of Sexual Harassment in Pro Sports
The jury in a sexual harassment suit brought by a former high ranking New York Knicks basketball
team executive recently awarded her more than $11 million in punitive damages. They did so after
hearing testimony during what the New York Times called a “sordid four-week trial.” Officials of
Madison Square Garden (which owns the Knicks) said they would appeal the verdict. However, even
if they were to win on appeal (which one University of Richmond Law School professor said was
unlikely), the case still exposed the organization and its managers to a great deal of unfavorable
The federal suit pitted Anucha Browne Sanders, the Knicks’ senior vice president of marketing and
business operations (and former Northwestern University basketball star), against the team’s owner,
Madison Square Garden, and its president, Isiah Thomas. The suit charged them with sex
discrimination and retaliation. Ms. Brown Sanders accused Mr. Thomas of verbally abusing and
sexually harassing her over a 2-year period. She said the garden fired her about a month after she
complained to top management about the harassment. “My pleas and complaints about Mr. Thomas’
illegal and offensive actions fell on deaf ears,” she said. At the trial, the Garden cited numerous
explanations for the dismissal, saying she had “failed to fulfill professional responsibilities,” At a
news conference, Browne Sanders said that Thomas”… refused to stop his demeaning and repulsive
behavior and the Garden refused to intercede.” For the part, Mr. Thomas vigorously insisted he was
innocent, and said, “I will not allow her or anybody, man or woman, to use me as a pawn for their
financial gain.” According to one report of the trial, her claims of harassment and verbal abuse had
little corroboration from witnesses, but neither did the Garden’s claim that her performance had
been subpar. After the jury decision came in, Browne Sanders’ lawyers said, “This [decision] confirms
what we’ve been saying all along, that [Browne Sanders] was sexually abused and fired for
complaining about it.” The Garden’s statement said, in part, “We look forward to presenting our
arguments to an appeals court and believe they will agree that no sexual harassment took place.”
1. Do you think Ms. Brown Sanders had the basis for a sexual harassment suit? Why?
2. From what you know of this case, do you think the jury arrived at the correct decision? If not,
why not? If so, why?
3. Based on the few facts that you have, what steps could Garden management have taken to
protect itself from liability in this matter?
4. Aside from the appeal, what would you do now if you were the Garden’s top management?
5. “The allegations against Madison Square Garden in this case raise ethical questions with regard
to the employer’s actions.” Explain whether you agree or disagree with this statement, and why.
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