Isiah Thomas, James Dolan talk MSG sexual harassment case with Liberty

ByIan Begley ESPN logo
Monday, May 18, 2015

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Liberty owner James Dolan and new team president Isiah Thomas met with players on Saturday to address a jury's ruling that Madison Square Garden improperly fired a female executive who accused Thomas of sexual harassment.

"They were very open and honest," veteran Swin Cash said. "That's what I appreciated ... to really address all the issues and not just be politically correct. So that's I think, as players, what we really appreciated the most."

In 2007, when Thomas was coaching the New York Knicks, an MSG executive alleged that he sexually harassed her. Although Thomas maintained his innocence, a jury found that MSG, owner of the team, improperly fired the executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, for complaining about the unwanted advances. The jury also ruled that Browne Sanders was entitled to $11.6 million in damages from MSG and Dolan.

A portion of the money ($6 million) was awarded for the jury's ruling that Thomas aided and abetted a hostile work environment. The rest of the money was awarded because Browne Sanders was found to have been fired for complaining about the environment.

Thomas and Madison Square Garden disputed the jury's findings after Thomas was named president and part owner of the Liberty. Thomas' ownership is pending approval by the league's Board of Governors.

Cash said she appreciated that Dolan and Thomas would address the sexual harassment case with the team and provide players a chance to ask questions about the situation.

Cash said Thomas and Dolan's comments to the team included "letting us know how things were going to be. Why they made the decisions that they made. And that's all you can ask for as an employee, as a professional athlete, is to understand why decisions were made, how you got to this point and understanding what the goal is moving forward."

Other Liberty players who spoke to the media on Sunday after the team's first practice seemed to be keeping an open mind about Thomas' new role.

"As women, we expect to be able to play in an environment that is conducive to us being successful. So that's what we're focused on," guard Tanisha Wright said. "As far as we know it's going to be a great environment to be here and [Thomas is] going to contribute to that."

Thomas had been advising Dolan on the Liberty for several months before taking over as president.

Liberty guard/forward Essence Carson said she's had a handful of interactions with the Hall of Fame point guard.

"My personal experience with Isiah has been nothing but professional ... and I expect it to remain the same moving forward," Carson said. "And I would expect it to be that way for players 1 through 12, 1 through 15 and the entire office on the Liberty side."

Carson added: "I trust the company wholeheartedly and entirely that they made the right decision. Again, my time here has been nothing but the utmost professional and I expect moving forward for it to remain the same and nothing to change, nothing to alter that. No matter who comes in the front door, who takes a seat in the office, in management. We here in the Liberty organization have standards. And we understand that anyone who becomes a part of that family will have to uphold those standards."

Cash, a 14-year veteran, commended her younger teammates for handling the discussion surrounding the Thomas hiring with "maturity."

"This is a situation that we weren't asked to be in. We're in it now, we're dealing with it and then you move forward," she said.

Cash added that she believes the Liberty will have a professional work environment under Thomas.

"I feel confident from the conversations that I've had that our working environment will be efficient for everybody that everything is going to be on the up and up. How MSG has run, as far as their employees and the organization, I feel confident in that moving forward," Cash said.

The WNBA players association said in a statement that it would hold regular meetings with Liberty players to "provide a forum for any issues, complaints or concerns regarding the working environment at MSG."

"We feel it is important to convey the message that WNBA players will not tolerate a hostile work environment, and that no one should have to endure unwanted sexual advances and harassment in the workplace," the statement read. "The verdict finding there to be a hostile work environment at MSG was issued eight years ago, however. We recognize that people can learn, grow and evolve in that time frame, and that MSG, under Mr. Dolan, may now afford a hospitable, appropriate and non-discriminatory environment for its female employees."

WNBA president Laurel Richie told the Associated Press that she hopes to have the issue surrounding Thomas' ownership stake resolved before the season-opener on June 5.

Related Video