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An Accusation of Sexual

Harassment in Pro Sports

Saaima Rahman

141 1869

Taisir Newaz

141 1471

Tasnim Faruque Nabila


141 1890

Submitted to:
Dr. Md. Abbas Ali Khan
BUS 601 Sec 3
MBA Program
School of Business
North South University

Dated 28th June, 2014

The case is that of a sexual harassment suit filed by an ex high ranking
executive of New York Knicks basketball team against the teams owner and
The plaintiff:
Ms. Browne Sanders - The Knicks Senior Vice President of Marketing and
Business Operations
Former Northwestern University
basketball star
The Defendant
The Madison Square Garden the team owner
Mr. Isiah Thomas President
The Complaint
Ms. Browne Sanders accused Mr. Thomas of verbally abusing and
sexually harassing her over a two-year period. Less than a month after she
formally complained to the Garden, the company chairman, James L. Dolan,
fired her citing failure to fulfill professional responsibilities.
The Verdict
The jury awarded the plaintiff a total of $11.6 million - $6 million for
subjecting her to a hostile work environment and another $2.6 million for
firing her in retaliation. The jury ordered that Mr. Dolan pay $3 million for the
retaliation as he took full responsibility for deciding to fire her in his
The case raised several issues regarding the Gardens management and its
HR policies.
Firstly, we found that the Garden management did not provide employees
with a safe work environment as a top executive faced hostility and stress at
work from her supervisor repeatedly.
Second, there was no complaint mechanism in place and so the victim could
only plead with her harasser to stop. However, when that did not work, she
could only go to the chairman to officially complain.
Third, the internal investigation was not done properly since the accused was
the president of the company. The company should have therefore involved a
third party to handle the issue impartially.
Fourth, the management acted with retaliation when they fired her for
complaining. This is an illegal action and the company should not have acted
in this way.

Finally, when the lawsuit was filed, the Garden should have tried to settle this
out of court and apologized to the victim. Taking the matter to court opened
it to public ridicule and resulted significant financial loss to them.

1. Do you think Ms. Browne Sanders had the basis for a sexual
harassment suit? Why or why not?
In order to answer this question, we need to first understand what
encompasses sexual harassment in workplace. There are several laws that
can be referred to that can give us some insight.
US Labor Laws
According to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), the
federal agency responsible for establishing and administering guidelines and
regulations addressing sexual harassment by way of Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act:
It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that
persons sex. Harassment can include sexual harassment or unwelcome
sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical
harassment of a sexual nature.
Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can
include offensive remarks about a persons sex. For example, it is illegal to
harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
Although the law doesnt prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or
isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is
so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment
or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim
being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a
supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee
of the employer, such as a client or customer.
Sexual harassment is usually divided into two main categories: Quid Pro Quo
and Hostile Environment. A hostile environment is the more common type of
sexual harassment, but more difficult to prove. This exists when an employee
is made to feel uncomfortable and suffers emotional and/or mental strain
due to frequent exposure to offensive sexual talk and jokes, pornographic
images and repeated unwelcome sexual advances, although there is no
threat to the employees advancement in the work place or continued
employment. This type of sexual harassment is that which is continually
being interpreted and re-interpreted by case law and legislative actions.
Indian Law

There is no specific legislation in India that deals with sexual harassment but
the Supreme Court has framed some guidelines based on petitions filed by
NGOs and social activists. These are similar to the ones stated above under
US laws and include:

Sexually determined behavior

Physical contact and advances

A demand or request for sexual favors

Sexually colored remarks

Showing pornography

Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a

sexual nature.

Bangladesh Labor Act 2006

As per Chapter XXI (Miscellaneous) section 332.
Conduct towards female workers: Where any female worker is employed in
any work of the establishment, irrespective of her rank or status, no one of
that establishment shall be have with the female worker which may seem to
be indecent or repugnant to the modesty or honor of the female worker.
In 2008, the case of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association vs
Government of Bangladesh, the Supreme Court established binding and
legally enforceable guidelines on sexual harassment. But legislation following
the guidelines is still pending.
According to the case at hand, Ms. Sanders was subjected to verbal abusing
and harassment of a sexual nature over a 2-year period by Mr. Thomas, who
continued to repeat his misdemeanor despite several complaints and pleas
made by the victim. The company also refused to intervene in this matter
which should have been part of their HR policy to handle such issues. In
addition, she faced sex discrimination and retaliation when she complained
about her situation to company chairman, Mr. Dolan, and was fired from her
job within a month. This situation clearly falls under Hostile Work
Environment category of sexual harassment as per EEOC.
Although it is difficult to prove as was the case here where inadequate
witness testimonials could be found to corroborate her claims, still there is
enough justification for Ms. Sanders to file lawsuit against the Garden with
sexual harassment charges. We believe that Ms. Sanders faced a work
environment that was hostile enough to make her uncomfortable that
escalated with her wrongful termination.

2. From what you know of this case, do you think the jury arrived at
the correct decision? If not, why not? If so, why?
The case of sexual harassment in Pro Sports is one of great interest and
highlight in US context. People of celebrity status are accused of illegal and
offensive sexual behavior by employees and this fact makes it very attractive
to the media and general public. Also there are many incidences of such
cases occurring in this testosterone driven male dominated arena of sports
where frequently top officials are known to make sexual advances towards
their employees while the organizations internal HR departments are
inadequate in dealing with them.
However, given the time frame of this case which took place in 2006, we
need to consider the fact that sexual harassment cases and work place
discriminations were being explored to great extents in the 1990s and early
2000s and lawsuits brought against companies were on the rise during this
time. As a result, what can be written off as mere teasing and what should be
classified as serious hostility was getting categorized in detail. In addition,
the precedents for the level and amount of punishment to be given in these
cases were being set.
Being an issue of increasing importance, this case was brought at a time
when great highlight was given to setting an example in the society as well
as to make enforcement of the related laws visibly strong. It was estimated
in 1998 that sexual harassment claims alone were costing each Fortune 500
company $6.7 million per year, with costs for smaller companies being
proportionately burdensome. This range was still applicable in the 2000s as
was seen that most individual cases got awarded punitive damages in the
amounts of less than $1million to maximum $4million whereas corporate
cases have verdicts that ranged from $5million to $21million.
Given above data, it can be said that the Sanders case was awarded one of
the highest verdicts at $11.6million. In addition to the work place
harassments, the victim said that the firing by Mr. Dolan led her to search for
more than a year to find her current job as the associate athletic director at
the State University of New York at Buffalo, at about half her salary with the
The claims that Ms. Browne Sanders made against Mr. Thomas appeared to
come down to a test of her credibility as a little-known executive against his
celebrity standing and Hall of Fame status. Her claims that he repeatedly
referred to her as a bitch and made unwanted advances had little
corroboration from witnesses. Still, they stood up to a barrage of testimony
by witnesses for Mr. Thomas and the Garden that her job performance had
dramatically floundered in 2005.

Thus the jurys decision can be considered as fair and justifiable as the case
closed in 2006. However, for current times, the same may not be the case as
fewer sexual harassment lawsuits are filed against corporations since the
beginning of the economic recession in 2008. More awareness has grown as
companies try to improve their HR departments to better avoid or mitigate
cases of work place hostility and more cases are being settled out of court.

3. Based on the few facts that you have what steps if any could the
Garden management have taken to protect themselves from
liability in this matter?
Sexual harassment in the workplace can be very damaging to the well
being of a company. It can not only result in expensive lawsuits but it can
also destroy morale, build distrust, and affect productivity. HR can
therefore play a leading role in preventing and correcting this illegal
According to this case, it is apparent that the HR department of the
company was inadequate and ineffective in identifying and addressing a
hostile work environment for its employees. Also there were no place or
person appointed in the organization where any complaint of sexual
harassment can be made in confidence which is why the victim had to
take the matter to the chairman.
Given the limitations, the Garden management could have still avoided
the whole litigation process and subsequent loss of reputation if they were
more forthwith in their internal handling of the issue. Upon receiving the
complaint, the chairman should have launched an immediate and
thorough investigation into the matter which he failed to do as is apparent
from the case. Also the investigation that was conducted appears to be
biased and limited according to trial evidence.
The following steps could have been taken to protect themselves:
1. When beginning the investigation, question the complainant first and then
the alleged harasser. Ask open- ended questions and try not to be
judgmental. Give the same attention and respect to both parties.
2. After interviewing the parties involved, speak to any witnesses whose
names have arisen in the investigation, and reiterate that they should
also maintain confidentiality to prevent hurt feelings and further damage
to the workforce.
3. Evaluate all the evidence from every source. If the investigation is
inconclusive, notify both parties that the investigation did not support the
allegations and no corrective actions will therefore be taken. If the
evidence, however, substantiates the complaint, take immediate steps to
discipline the harasser. This may be a severe reprimand, suspension, or
termination depending on the seriousness of the behavior and the
disciplinary steps required to be followed in the companys policy. Warn
the harasser if he/she is not discharged that any future sexual harassment
or retaliation can result in possible termination. Tell the victim of HRs

decision, apologize, and promise to stop any future sexual harassment or

retaliation that may occur.
4. Do not engage in any action towards the victim that may be interpreted
as punishment for coming forward. This was the gross mistake that the
Garden made when they fired Sanders one month after complaining which
led to her filing the lawsuit in the first place.
5. Write a thorough report on all the findings. Summarize the allegations,
responses and conclusions made. Allow both parties to read the report but
do not give them copies so that confidentiality may be maintained.
6. Continue to monitor both parties for up to one year to assure that sexual
harassment has stopped and has not reoccurred.
In this case, a point to note is the high profile nature of the business. The
person accused is a publicly visible entity with great influence and so the
company should have taken steps to keep the matter more confidential
and undisclosed. An effort to settle the matter out-of-court would have
saved them from the huge amount of liability and a formal apology would
have gone a long way.
Once the matter goes to court claimants are entitled to punitive damages
if they win a sexual harassment case against their employer; thus, the
monetary incentive to file an outside complaint has greatly increased.
Organizations would be wise to implement a sexual harassment dispute
resolution process that deals with the problem tactfully, objectively, and
As in this case, failure to reach a consensus internally was a risk, the
company could have taken an option that provides all of the necessary
criteria of mitigating the sexual harassment lawsuit by using an outside
mediator. The company may also consider a focused meeting between
the accuser and the respondent conducted through a professional or
government/NGOs in case internally appointed arbitrators fail to resolve
issue due to conflict of interest.
If HR will consistently follow its company policy, train its employees to
spot sexual harassment, and take swift corrective action if harassment
does occur, these steps may prevent liability to the company or, at least,
reduce the risk of a large damage award.

4. Aside from the appeal, what would you do now if you were the
Gardens top management?
As a result of the lawsuit, the Garden not only faced financial penalty but
also lost valuable reputation in public. The consequence of this is that the
Garden will have to spend considerable amount on Public Relations
management to rebuild its image in the world of Pro Sports.
1. To begin with they will have to show to all that they have learned from the
experience and are growing as a company by putting in place a
comprehensive HR policy with proper guidelines on workplace hostility
and general and sexual harassment handling.
Their policy handbook needs a:
sexual harassment policy,
general harassment policy,
policy about how sexual harassment investigations are conducted in
your company, and
policy that forbids an employee in a supervisory role from dating a
reporting employee and that details the steps required should a
relationship form.
2. A written policy on sexual harassment should immediately emphasize that
the company will have zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the
workplace. Also state that if a complaint is lodged, it will be thoroughly
and quickly investigated maintaining maximum confidentiality. Have an
employee handbook with policy devoted to sexual harassment. That
policy should:
define sexual harassment
state in no uncertain terms that you will not tolerate sexual harassment
state that you will discipline or fire any wrongdoers
set out a clear procedure for filing sexual harassment complaints
state that you will investigate fully any complaint that you receive, and
state that you will not tolerate retaliation against anyone who complains
about sexual harassment.
3. The policy should next identify the individuals to whom a complaint can
be made. It is usually the director of human resources or some other high
ranking management official. It is wise to name at least two people to
contact since one may be the harasser, and the company will need a
neutral party to investigate.

4. Train employees. At least once a year, conduct training sessions for

employees. These sessions should teach employees what sexual
harassment is, explain that employees have a right to a workplace free of
sexual harassment, review the complaint procedure, and encourage
employees to use it.
5. Train supervisors and managers. At least once a year, conduct training
sessions for supervisors and managers that are separate from the
employee sessions. The sessions should educate the managers and
supervisors about sexual harassment and explain how to deal with
Sexual Harassment Training Requirements as per US Law
Some states require certain employers to conduct sexual harassment
training. For example, California law requires employers that have at
least 50 employees to provide supervisors with two hours of interactive
sexual harassment training every two year. Connecticut and Maine also
require sexual harassment training. And other states strongly
encourage employers to provide such training, even if it isn't legally
required. Even if a state doesn't require or suggest training, it's still a
good idea - managers will know what the law is and what to do when
employees complain, and, if a company finds itself in a lawsuit, itll be
able to show that it took steps to try to prevent harassment.
6. Monitor the workplace. Get out among employees periodically. Talk to
them about the work environment. Ask for their input. Look around the
workplace itself. Do you see any offensive posters or notes? Talk to your
supervisors and managers about what is going on. Keep the lines of
communication open.
7. Take all complaints seriously. If someone complains about sexual
harassment, act immediately to investigate the complaint. If the
complaint turns out to be valid, the response should be swift and
Finally the company needs to have an action plan in case there is need for
third party arbitration or any lawsuit is filed. An efficient legal department
or personnel needs to be maintained who can correctly advice both
company and employees about the right way to handle extreme situations
and protect the interests of both. They can involve government or NGOs
to advocate between parties and provide neutral grounds. Also they need
to adopt the mind-set and strategy that allows them to settle any cases
using whatever means to avoid taking the matter to a court trial.


5. The allegations against the Madison Square Garden in this case

raise ethical questions with regard to the employers actions.
Explain whether you agree or disagree with this statement, and
The above statement is definitely true as the turn of events proved how
inadequately the HR of the Garden handled the whole situation.
According to the Law of Labor of US, there is no scope to even allow such
behavior to occur, let alone, extend to victimizing the sufferer. As per the
case, Sanders was mistreated at work place by her supervisor in a manner
that was clearly illegal and against moral or ethics of any professional. Even
when she took measures to protect herself by complaining to superiors, she
faced even more discrimination by the chairman who fired her without
proper cause or evidence and within a month.
She also faced financial hardship as a result as she had to get a job at half
her present salary almost a year later. When she took the matter to trial, she
was wrongful accused of poorly performing her job responsibilities when she
was serving in the Knicks. The president of the Garden, Mr. Thomas, went as
far as to remark that she was only trying gain financially by coloring his
reputation; while he vigorously claimed innocence.
The employer, the Garden, overlooked firstly to provide a safe work
environment for its female employees including top executives. This means
that they failed to follow the Law of the land where they were obligated to
prevent a hostile work place. Thus their lack of actions was illegal and
When the matter did go to the management through official complaint, they
failed to take the necessary steps to ensure a proper investigation and
deliberately accused the victim for interfering and hampering the process.
Thus their report was incomplete as per trial evidence to prove the truth.
The victim faced racial discrimination and gender bias as she was a female
executive of African-American descent working in a male driven sports world.
Her need for safe workplace was clearly denied and was verbally abused
over a 2-year period. Her harasser was her superior and also a celebrity
figure. Thus the difference in corporate hierarchy between the victim and
abuser, as well as gap in social status was factored into the managements
decisions which were unethical and illegal. The chairman worked with the
pre-assumption that the allegations were false and the accuser was simply
out to get financial gain. This led to his inadequate efforts on investigating
the matter and firing her in retaliation. Although generally his assumption
may be correct, however in this case he was proved wrong in the trial.
Finally she was fired from her job for complaining and without notice. This led
to her financial hardship and subsequent demotion in career.

All these prove without doubt that the Garden was unethical in its actions
and did not abide by the Law.

The Lesson to learn here is that a company no matter how big and a
harasser no matter how popular or powerful, no one can get away with
A serious issue as work place hostility is not something that any company
can get away by ignoring. A fully functional HR department needs to have
proper and detailed guidelines and rules in their policy regarding sexual
harassment. Not only this, there needs to be vigilant implementation and
checking to ensure protection of both employer and employee.
It was the inadequacy of the top and HR managements that led to this great
damage to the Garden.


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