Madison Square Garden is not finished fighting sexual harassment charges.
On Tuesday, it lost a case brought against Isiah Thomas, the Knicks’ coach and team president, by a fired top executive. A federal jury in Manhattan ordered the Garden and its chairman, James L. Dolan, to pay the executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, $11.6 million in punitive damages for sexually discriminating against her.
But looming is a possible second trial, one with similarities to the Browne Sanders case.
In a lawsuit filed nearly three years ago, Courtney Prince, 29, the former captain of the Rangers City Skaters, the team’s cheerleading squad, sued the Garden and two of the team’s employees for sexual harassment and retaliation by firing her and then smearing her reputation.
If the Garden follows the same strategy it used against Browne Sanders, it will refuse to settle, and an even more salacious lawsuit will be sent into the maelstrom of public opinion.
In that pursuit, the Garden risks further hurting its image with fans and sponsors.
“How much do they care about damage to their image?” said Kathleen Peratis, Prince’s lawyer. “Maybe it’s not in their DNA to care if they look bad in the public eye as long as people buy tickets.”
In October 2004, Prince said that she was harassed and then fired after she told other skaters that she had been solicited for sex by a public-relations manager for the team during a postgame encounter in a bar in late December 2003.
She said in the lawsuit that after her efforts to warn the skaters about the incident and tell them to be cautious in their dealings with management, the Garden fired her and interviewed her former colleagues, yielding a dossier of accusations about her graphic sexual language and sex talk, degrading and race-related comments and tart advice on how to look sexier.
In one instance, a psychiatrist hired by the Garden gave Prince a diagnosis of bipolar personality who was likely to have been manic and hypersexual at the time of the bar incident. But Prince’s court documents argue that she showed no unusual symptoms when the doctor examined her and that he issued the diagnosis of her emotional state from 10 skaters’ unsworn affidavits.
Subsequently, two skaters provided Prince’s legal team with affidavits saying they had been coerced by the Garden into signing statements.
“Every case is different,” Peratis said. “But at this stage, it is typical for defendants to smear the plaintiff, and the more power the defendant has, the more they can do it.”
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