NEW YORK – A fundraiser at an upstate university has sued two senior athletic department officials, accusing them of using her as a "plaything" and trying to make her ply big donors with her sexuality.
The plaintiff, Elizabeth Williams, is represented by the lawyer who won a highly publicized sexual harassment case against former New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas two years ago.
Williams' lawsuit, filed late Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan, alleges that after she took the fundraising position late last year in the Binghamton University athletic department, she "discovered that her new bosses viewed women as playthings and expected women in the department to raise money by exploiting their sexuality."
A spokeswoman for the university, which has about 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students, said it "has zero tolerance" for harassment or discrimination and was "dismayed" by the allegations against athletic department officials Jason Siegel and Chris Lewis.
"We are reviewing the legal complaint now, and we will respond appropriately in court," spokeswoman Gail Glover said.
There was no immediate response to a telephone message left with Williams' attorney, Anne Vladeck.
Among Williams' allegations is a claim that before an alumni gathering in New York City early this year, Siegel instructed her to dress provocatively and use her sexuality as a "business tactic." The lawsuit says a private dinner with Siegel, Lewis and favored donors grew especially offensive.
One of the donors "began laying down $100 bills on the table one at a time and told Williams to stop him when it got to be enough to sleep with him," the suit says. "When Williams made it clear she was not interested, (the donor) asked, 'Well, how much would it cost for you to sleep with me and my wife?"'
When Williams complained to senior school officials, "nothing was done to punish the harassers for this conduct," the suit says.
Instead, it claims, the defendants "tried to sweep the matter under the rug and have engaged in an ongoing pattern of retaliation against the plaintiff," who still works at the university, a 3-hour drive northwest of New York City.
The suit, which also names the university and two officials with an alumni association as defendants, seeks unspecified damages.
Siegel, a senior associate athletic director, did not immediately respond to a message left at his office. Lewis, assistant athletic director for development, declined comment.
In 2007, a jury found that Thomas and Madison Square Garden sexually harassed former team executive Anucha Browne Sanders and ordered the company to pay $11.6 million in damages.
The verdict followed an often vulgar trial in which Thomas took the witness stand to deny allegations he repeatedly came onto Sanders and referred to her as "bitch" and "ho" while they worked together at the midtown Manhattan sporting arena where the Knicks play.
Defense attorney Vladeck said Thomas and other higher-ups had ruined her client's career, and she urged the jury to affix damages that sent a message "to avoid this happening to somebody else."