NEW YORK – She maintains she was booted from a top executive job for the New York Knicks solely because she accused famed head coach Isiah Thomas of boorish and bizarre behavior. The team says she was fired because of her own failings.
Now a jury is trying to decide whose version to believe in a $10 million sexual harassment lawsuit.
On Friday, the jurors began their day by asking for readbacks from major witnesses, including Thomas and plaintiff Anucha Browne Sanders.
In closing arguments before the deliberations began Thursday, a lawyer for Browne Sanders said the team's owner "completely fabricated its reasons for firing" the former executive.
Anne Vladeck told a jury of five women and three men that Madison Square Garden and its chief executive, James Dolan, should be forced to pay punitive damages because money "is the language the defendants understand."
At the trial in Manhattan federal court, Browne Sanders leveled accusations — denied by Thomas — that he routinely addressed her as "bitch" and "ho" during private meetings. Such conduct "may be OK at the Garden, but it's not OK under the law," Vladeck said.
In their closing arguments, defense lawyers argued that Browne Sanders was doomed by her own failure to adapt to an organizational shake-up that began with Thomas's hiring in 2004. A series of clashes with Thomas and star guard Stephon Marbury, poor job performance and personal financial woes put her in a precarious position that prompted her to make false claims, said MSG attorney Ronald Green.
"That's not about sexual harassment," he said. "That's about team politics."
Thomas' attorney argued that Browne Sanders defied logic by testifying that the once-abusive coach did an abrupt about-face, declaring his love for her and suggesting a liaison "off site."
"Interesting term — 'off site,'" said the lawyer, Kathleen Bogas. "Not particularly romantic. One would expect, 'Let's have dinner.' 'Let's have lunch.' 'Let's have a drink together.' But 'let's go off site'?"
The defense also argued that extensive testimony about Marbury's admitted tryst with an MSG intern — meant to demonstrate an environment of harassment — really was a sideshow.
"What does that have to do with Isiah Thomas? Nothing," Bogas said.
Browne Sanders, the former vice president of marketing and business operations, says she was dismissed in 2005 because she dared to accuse Thomas of routinely using vulgar language in his first year and of later making unwanted sexual advances toward her. She seeks reinstatement to her job, which paid as much as $260,000 a year.
Thomas calmly testified Wednesday that his contact with Browne Sanders was infrequent and usually friendly and respectful, adding that degrading a woman with foul language "is never OK."