Updated: The Women’s Sports Foundation launches petition to deny Isiah Thomas ownership of New York Liberty

June 5, 2015 Update:

Madison Square Garden responds to the Women’s Sports Foundation:

“The Women’s Sports Foundation has continued to rely on erroneous and exaggerated media reports regarding Isiah Thomas and MSG.  They are misinformed.  In fact, the case was never concluded.

Anucha Browne Sanders voluntarily dismissed her complaint.  Ms. Sanders accepted that MSG and Mr. Thomas did not admit guilt or concede any wrongdoing.  MSG agreed to forego any additional legal action and agreed to a payment covering past and future salary and legal expenses.  Isiah Thomas did not pay anything.”

Since the New York Liberty announced the appointment of Isiah Thomas as president of the franchise and offered him part ownership earlier this month, the Women’s Sports Foundation along with fans and members of the media have been expressing outrage about the hiring. Thomas, who has a long record of failure as a basketball coach and sports executive, and the owners of the franchise were the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the current NCAA vice president of women’s basketball championships, Anucha Browne, in 2007.

A jury found that Thomas and Madison Square Garden Company owner James Dolan fostered a hostile work environment. MSG was ordered to pay Browne, a former executive for the NBA team, $11.6 million. The lawsuit detailed crude and sexual comments directed at Browne from Thomas. When she complained, the Knicks fired her. Thomas and Dolan continue to deny any responsibility for the events detailed in the lawsuit and have recently indicated that they think the Browne lied about the harassment.

Browne fired back via her attorney.

“In an attempt to re-write history, the Garden has issued a Statement about Anucha Browne Sanders’ [her name in 2007] lawsuit against MSG, Dolan and Thomas that is, at best, misleading and, at worst, a fabrication. In fact, a jury, after hearing all of the evidence, including Thomas’s self-serving denials, found that Thomas ‘intentionally discriminated against [Browne Sanders] by aiding and abetting a hostile environment based on sex.’”

The Seattle Storm and Connecticut Sun head coach Anne Donovan have voiced concerns about Thomas’ hiring. The WNBA player’s union will monitor the team throughout the season in light Thomas’ appointment. The WSF launched a petition in response.

Isiah Thomas has filed paperwork to become part-owner of the New York Liberty and the decision now rests with the WNBA Board of Governors. If Mr. Thomas is officially voted into position by this group, he will work in the same office from which he was once disgraced and with many of the same colleagues who were there when the former Knicks head coach was found guilty of sexual harassment of his colleague, Anucha Browne Sanders. Although Mr. Thomas continues to deny responsibility, the jury verdict ultimately resulted in MSG paying $11.5 million in damages for sexual harassment and retaliation.

Nineteen years strong and still growing, the WNBA showcases incredible athletes who stand as role models for millions of girls and boys worldwide. Every day, young girls across the country hone their skills in hopes of one day scoring the winning basket on a college court or in the WNBA Championships. The WNBA’s message to those girls if Mr. Thomas is approved as part-owner of the New York Liberty is that sexual harassment – inexcusable behavior in any other workplace – is not only tolerated but is instead rewarded at the WNBA. When Donald Sterling was found making disparaging racial comments, he was banned from professional basketball for the rest of his life. The same rules must apply to sexual misconduct and the WNBA.

We implore the WNBA Board of Governors heed this recommendation and show the league’s millions of supporters across the world that they respect women from their executive suites to their season ticket holders to their youngest fans. Deny Mr. Thomas’ ownership of the New York Liberty.

Last week the organization released an open letter to the WNBA board of governors about Thomas. The board can deny MSG’s attempt to grant Thomas ownership. He filed ownership papers for the team last week.

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