Saturday, December 29, 2007

MSG settles sexual harassment lawsuit with ex-Rangers City Skater

Madison Square Garden management had to pay a price for losing a high profile sexual harassment court case to former New York Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders on October 2nd. Not only was the company ordered to pay $11.6 million in damages, but those named in Sanders' lawsuit would hang their heads in shame. They include MSG chairman James Dolan and Knicks President of Basketball Operations Isiah Thomas, a man who had made Sanders' working environment disgracefully an uncomfortable one. Once Dolan fired Sanders in January 2006 after she took her complaints to the team owner about Thomas' treatment of her that began as far back in time as three years earlier, she filed the lawsuit.

While Dolan had to settle with Sanders, Thomas somehow escaped from financial penalty as he still remains employed by Madison Square Garden. That includes head coaching duties for the Knicks. With that arena tenant having its worst season since the early 1980s, fans recently gathered at the 7th Avenue entrance complete with picket-size signs to demand that Thomas be fired. To this day, Dolan has spared Thomas the pink slip.

While this case had moved into the shadow of the Thomas sexual harassment lawsuit, Dolan likely decided now to settle with another woman that was also treated poorly by company employees. Interesting enough this came just 16 days after doing so with Sanders. Likely in order to avoid another embarassing trial to further damage the Madison Square Garden company reputation, Dolan settled on Wednesday with former Rangers City Skaters cheerleader captain Courtney Prince, a woman that filed her own lawsuit against the company in October 2004. New York Times sports writer Richard Sandomir reported in his article on Thursday that Prince claimed that New York Rangers Vice President of Sports Team Operations Jason Vogel made unwelcomed sexual advances toward Prince at a nearby bar after a Rangers game in December 2003 and tried to pressure her into having three-way sex with him and a former New York Times reporter.

After taking her complaints to company management that they dismissed, Prince was subject to retaliatory sexual harassment. New York Post writer Kati Cornell reported on Thursday that Prince also accused MSG employees of quizzing her of the sex lives of her fellow Rangers City Skaters and ordering her to arrange off-hours meetings with them at local bars. They also demanded her to tell the other cheerleaders to pad their bras, take diet pills and enhance their physical appearance to put it mildly make themselves look sultry. But once Prince warned the other cheerleaders to stay away from certain employees to avoid being sexually harassed, she was then fired.

The lawsuit made the front pages of the tabloids when this scandal became public, but the recent better on-ice performances of the Rangers may have lessened the focus of the Prince case in comparison to what the Knicks faced. New York Daily News writer Tracy Connor reported on Thursday that MSG had rejected an initial $800,000 settlement offer from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at the time Prince's lawsuit was originally filed and their lawyers attempted to vehemently slander Prince. This included gathering statements from ten of her former fellow cheerleaders in claiming she was a nymphomaniac and used graphic sexual language in their conversations.

However, Sandomir reported that Prince's court documents revealed that she showed no unusual psychological symptoms of questionable behavior while two of the Rangers City Skaters were coerced into signing unsworn affidavits.

Settling now obviously avoids significantly more embarassing testimony against the company. Even more damaging for Madison Square Garden would've been the possibility of revealing details of a notebook kept by Rangers executives about what kind of sexual positions they want try with members of the Rangers City Skaters. Sanders was actually aware of this notebook, which its existence helped in their cases against their former employer.

"We resolved this matter with no admission of wrongdoing on any part," Prince's lawyer Kathleen Peratis said after the undisclosed settlement was reached.

The Rangers City Skaters are no longer a part of the game events during Rangers home games at Madison Square Garden.

Even though the two parties came to a confidential settlement, the court of public opinion likely has convicted those that run Madison Square Garden of what Ms. Connor described in her article. That would be that with not one but two sexual harassment cases levied against them, an undetermined number of male executives had treated female employees like sex objects, the kind of reputation that will need to be cleaned up in the coming weeks, months and years ahead.

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