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Published:October 9th, 2007 09:46 EST
Isiah Thomas Fouls Out

Isiah Thomas Fouls Out

By George Curry (Former Featured Editor)

Sandwiched between a massive demonstration in Jena, La. and O.J. being squeezed yet again in Las Vegas, few details have emerged about New York Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas losing a $11.6 million sexual harassment suit for misconduct in the workplace and repeatedly referring to a Black female company executive as a "bitch" and a "ho."

In a videotaped deposition, Thomas, the former Detroit Pistons star, compounded matters when he said: "A White man calling a Black female 'bitch,' that is wrong with me. I am not accepting that. That's a problem for me."

However, when an attorney for the defendant asked if it were offensive for a Black man to use that term to describe a Black female, Thomas replied, "Not as much."

That's stupid. In other words, it's wrong for defrocked radio personality Don Imus to use that kind of language to describe female basketball players at Rutgers, but it's fine if Thomas uses similar language to degrade a woman basketball executive.

I wonder if Thomas would feel that way if a Black man called his wife the "B" or "H" word? How about his mama? Yes, let's go there. Whenever any man - Black, White or polka dot - uses derogatory terms to refer to a Black female, he is talking about someone's daughter, wife, sister or mama. And if he doesn't want those terms applied to his love one, then he shouldn't call any other woman out of her name. And that goes for all men.

By its nature, any sexual harassment suit contains an element of he-said-she-said. In this instance, a jury believed the "she" version, detailed in an 18-page lawsuit filed against Thomas and Madison Square Garden (MSG). Even if Thomas had never used demeaning language, as he contends, the complaint provides a textbook example of how sexual harassment is practiced in the workplace, behavior that should not be tolerated under any circumstances.

Anucha Browne Sanders, the New York Knicks' former senior vice president for marketing and business operations, is a woman of talent and accomplishment. Before graduating from Northwestern University in 1985, she was a star basketball player, leading the nation in scoring and making the Kodak All-American team. She was a member of the Big 10 All-Decade Team and played on the United States National Basketball Team. She subsequently earned her master's degree in communications at Florida State University and held a high-level marketing position with IBM before joining the Knicks seven years ago.

"Contrary to Thomas' carefully cultivated public persona, he is capable of abhorrent behavior in private," her lawsuit states. "Soon after his hire, he began to sexually harass Brown Sanders, including calling her 'bitch' and 'ho' to her face. His hostility toward Brown Sanders went on for months, and he took pains to marginalize Brown Sanders and to prevent her from doing her job.

"Once Thomas realized that Browne Sanders was not going to recede in the face of Thomas' gender-based hostility, he took a new approach. He began to make sexual advances to Browne Sanders, repeatedly professing his love for her, making comments about her physical appearance, and suggesting that they go 'offsite' together, a thinly veiled solicitation for sex. When Browne Sanders proved unreceptive to Thomas' advances, he continued to undermine her within the organization by, among other things, making derogatory remarks about her to the Knicks players, whose cooperation Browne Sanders needed to perform her marketing duties."

According to court filings, on a scale of 1 to 5, Browne Sanders received the top score of 5 for 2002 and 2003. Even in 2004, after she had complained about Thomas harassing her and calling her a "f-king bitch," her rating dropped to only a 4.

Browne Sanders said she repeatedly complained to Steve Mills, president and chief operating officer of Madison Square Garden, the Knicks' parent company, but he refused to act on her complaints. Browne Sanders said after she hired an attorney, Mills ordered an in-house investigation. After the inquiry determined her charges were "not supported," Browne Sanders was fired because she could not function effectively with senior management.

"The allegedly 'poor interactions' that she had with MSG's senior management were directly related to the harassment and discrimination that Browne Sanders suffered," her suit says. "MSG fired Browne Sanders to retaliate against her for raising claims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and to send a message to other employees that similar complaints will not be tolerated. MSG fired Browne Sanders with full knowledge that it is illegal to punish an employee for complaining of harassment and discrimination."

By awarding damages of nearly $12 million, the jury was also sending a message: stupidity and discrimination can be costly.

 

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.  

 

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