A jury ruled on Tuesday that New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas sexually harassed a former top team executive, subjecting her to unwanted advances and a barrage of verbal insults, but also ruled he does not have to pay punitive damages.
After an ugly, three-week trial, the ruling gives Thomas a partial victory in the US$10 million lawsuit filed by Anucha Browne Sanders.
The jury did find that Madison Square Garden committed harassment against the woman, and ruled that she is entitled to punitive damages from Madison Square Garden.
US District Judge Gerard Lynch called it an "imminently reasonable" verdict and said the jury will be asked to return later Tuesday to hear brief arguments on punitive damages.
The harassment verdict was widely expected after the jury sent a note to the judge Monday indicating that it believed Thomas and the other defendants, Madison Square Garden and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan, sexually harassed Browne Sanders.
After the verdict, Browne Sanders hugged family members and friends gathered in the back of the courtroom.
Browne Sanders, fired from her US$260,000-a-year job last year, sued Thomas and Madison Square Garden. Her case presented the Garden as Animal House in sneakers, a place where nepotism, sexism, crude remarks and crass language were part of the culture.
The former Northwestern college basketball star characterized Thomas as a foul-mouthed lout who initially berated her as a "bitch" and a "ho" before his anger gave way to ardor, with Thomas making unwanted advances and encouraging her to visit him "off site."
Thomas, who was hired in December 2003, followed her to the stand and denied all her allegations. Attorneys for Thomas and the Garden also portrayed Browne Sanders as incompetent and unable to adapt once the former NBA star player arrived as the Knicks' president.
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