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An ex-New York Knicks executive was fired over her own failings and office politics, not because she dared to accuse head coach Isiah Thomas of abusing her with crude language, a defense lawyer said today in closing arguments at a sexual harassment trial.
The plaintiff in the $10 million lawsuit, Anucha Browne Sanders, refused to adapt to an organizational shake up that began with Thomas's hiring in 2004, said Ronald Green, an attorney for Madison Square Garden.
"It isn't about sexual harassment; it's about change," Green told a jury of five women and three men.
Testifying in Manhattan federal court, Browne Sanders accused Thomas of routinely addressing her as "bitch" and "ho" during private meetings. Green noted that Thomas, in his own testimony, admitted cursing in front of her, but not at her, and that other witnesses claimed that Browne Sanders herself used the term "bitch" in the workplace.
"She was far from uncomfortable with the very language she condemned," he said.
Green alleged that a series of clashes with Thomas and star guard Stephon Marbury, poor job performance and personal financial woes put Browne Sanders in a precarious position that prompted her to fabricate sensational claims. She was fired after demanding a $6 million settlement, he said.
"That's not about sexual harassment," he said. "That's about team politics."
Thomas's 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'?"
Closing arguments by Browne Sanders' attorneys were expected later Thursday, with deliberations expected to start Friday.
Browne Sanders, a 44-year-old former Northwestern University basketball star, 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 a job as vice president of marketing, which paid as much as $260,000 annually.
On Wednesday, Thomas calmly testified that his contact with Browne Sanders was infrequent and usually friendly and respectful.
Degrading a woman with foul language "is never OK," he said. "It is never appropriate."
Lawyer: Thomas accuser fired over Knicks team politics
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