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MSG/Sanders Verdict Could Help Cheerleader Case

Tuesday’s bombshell verdict in the sexual harassment suit brought by Anucha Browne Sanders against her former bosses at Madison Square Garden may help a similar suit brought against the arena and its parent Cablevision Systems involving a former cheerleader for the New York Rangers.

A jury found in favor of Browne Sanders in her high-profile case against the Garden, New York Knick coach Isiah Thomas and Cablevision CEO and Garden chairman James Dolan, awarding the former Knicks marketing executive $11.6 million in punitive damages. Thomas -- who was found guilty of harassing Browne Sanders but did not have to pay damages – and Madison Square Garden have said they will appeal.

But a nugget of information brought up at the Browne Sanders trial could potentially help out a similar sexual harassment case brought against the Garden and its parent Cablevision Systems in 2004. During the three-week trial in Manhattan, Browne Sanders also claimed that MSG management kept a Kama Sutra wish-list for the on-ice cheerleaders for the New York Rangers hockey team, which is also owned by Cablevision.

Former New York Rangers City Skaters captain Courtney Prince filed suit in October 2004 against Cablevision and the Garden, claiming she was fired from her job after complaining of unwanted sexual advances from executives. That case is still pending.

Prince’s attorney Kathleen Peratis did not want to comment on any specific evidence brought up during the Browne Sanders trial. But she said the verdict does offer encouragement for women’s rights in the workplace.

“It certainly has a very important effect on these claims in general and I think on the way defendants present their defense.” Peratis said.

Peratis added that the claims validated by the jury verdict in the Browne Sanders case are generally the same in most sexual harassment cases – a claim is made for sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, followed by a claim for a retaliatory firing.

“The thing that I think this enormous punitive damage verdict suggests is that the defendant really undermined all of its credibility with the jury by going after the plaintiff the way they did,” Peratis said. “I think that typical strategy of defendants, there may be a little reality testing going on. That’s certainly what they did to Courtney Prince and that is sort of from the game book of employers defending these cases.”

But Peratis stopped short of saying that the Browne Sanders verdict set a precedent or at least proved a pattern of harassment that could help her in her case.  

“I can’t comment on the specific evidence,” Peratis said. “This kind of verdict affects the atmosphere; it affects the atmosphere for plaintiffs and for defendants. It kind of evinces a public revulsion at this kind of behavior, [that it] not [be] treated as a little private peccadillo that doesn’t matter. It’s really understood to be intolerable behavior in the workplace for which the plaintiff should not only get compensated but the defendant should be punished. That was the important thing going on in this case.”

Peratis said that a summary judgment motion, filed in June, is still pending on the Prince case. She added that there is no set date as to when the judge will rule on that matter.

Peratis would not comment when asked if Cablevision or Madison Square Garden had contacted her recently to discuss a settlement.