Knicks' Isiah Thomas sexually harassed executive

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NEW YORK, Oct 2 (Reuters) New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas sexually harassed a female executive of the basketball team, a jury decided today, and it awarded her 11.6 million dollars in punitive damages from team owner Madison Square Garden and its chairman James Dolan.

The seven-person federal jury ruled that Anucha Browne Sanders, former marketing executive for the NBA team, was wrongly fired in retaliation for her complaints of sexual harassment.

''What I did here, I did for every working woman in America,'' Browne Sanders told reporters outside the courtroom after the payout was determined.

Browne Sanders, 44, was fired in February 2006 from her 260,000 dollars a year job as a Knicks vice president, an action she said was in response to her sexual harassment complaint against Thomas.

She had accused Thomas of making unwanted advances toward her and subjecting her to verbal insults, which she said began in 2004 after he joined the team as club president. She had asked the court for 10 million dollars in damages.

Thomas insisted afterward that he was innocent and vowed to appeal the verdict.

''I will appeal this and I remain confident in the man that I am, and what I stand for, and the family that I have,'' he said.

''I'm innocent. I'm very innocent. And I did not do the things that she accused me in this courtroom of doing.'' Jurors were not able to decide whether Thomas should pay Browne Sanders damages, so a mistrial on that count was declared by US District Court Judge Gerard Lynch.

Under the payout, the Garden, which is owned by Cablevision Systems Corp must pay 8.6 million dollars and Dolan must pay 3 million dollars.

The Garden and Dolan had countered that Browne Sanders was fired for incompetence and for interfering with its investigation of her harassment complaint.

Company officials for Cablevision were not immediately available for comment.

The trial and its outcome were the latest black eyes for a Knicks organization that has struggled competitively in recent years.

Thomas steered the Knicks to a 33-49 record last season in his first year as coach after being ordered by Dolan to take over from coach Larry Brown.

Brown, a Hall-of-Fame coach who had been signed by Thomas to a five-year million contract to pilot the Knicks, posted a 23-59 record in his first season before being fired.

Reuters SBA VP0252

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