By LUKAS I. ALPERT
October 3, 2007 -- The New York Knicks and Isiah Thomas failed to take Anucha Browne Sand Sanders'' sexual harassment case against them seriously - a foolish error that has cost them millions of dollars and caused untold damage to the team's reputation, legal experts said yesterday.
"When they didn't take her case seriously, right then and there, they lost," said lawyer Rosemarie Arnold, who spe specializes in harassment cases. "Their attitude was one of them being untouchable, and I think the jury saw through that."
While the $11.6 million pay out the team was hit with in punitive damages is chump change for a franchise like the Knicks, the public relations nightmare for them stings far deeper.
"It is shocking to me. It is absolutely a case that should have been settled on Day One," Arnold said. "Everything came out in the wash. It cost them way more than what they would have had to just pay her."
Attorney Kenneth Thompson - who won a client over $15 million in a harassment suit against the hip-hop magazine The Source - said that by letting the case to go to trial, the defense allowed the jury to see how things were run at Madison Square Garden, warts and all.
"Often when people have the courage to bring a discrimination case to court, they do well. I think she should be commended for having the courage to stand up and sue Isiah Thomas, Madison Square Garden and James Dolan," he said.
"This jury clearly put companies on notice. This is a big verdict."
Days of testimony showing the Knicks' clubhouse to be "Animal House" in sneakers, as Sanders had claimed - including officials calling women "bitches" and "hos" and directing sexually inappropriate behavior towards female staff - was exactly the type of thing the team should have avoided, Arnold said.
"I think it was a very strong case. You have to remember that Isiah admitted that he tried to kiss her and she rejected him. That in and of itself is workplace harassment. From Day One, the testimony was strong and clear, and I can't fathom a reason why they didn't settle the case," she said.