Inthis employment discrimination action, plaintiff Anucha Browne Sanders charges defendants Madison Square Garden,L.P. Isiah Lord Thomas III, and James L. Dolan subjected her to discriminationon the basis of sexual harassment, sex, and retaliation in violation of TitleVII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff moves for summary judgment onher retaliation claim, arguing that defendants have failed to show a genuineissue of material fact as to that claim. Defendant Thomas moves for summaryjudgment on that same claim insofar as it is asserted against him. DefendantsMSG and Dolan move for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claims for pecuniarydamage, arguing that her claims should be limited based on the discovery ofafter-acquired evidence.
Finally, all defendants move for summary judgment onplaintiff’s claim for reputation damages. The motions will be denied. Theparties sought out summary judgment on certain of plaintiff’s claims that is,because they ask the Court to find that certain of plaintiff’s claims are soincontestable that judgment should be awarded to them without their having topresent their case to a jury for purposes of this motion the evidence on alldisputed points must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party thatopposes summary judgment (). On summary judgment, it is not the function of theCourt to make factual findings or resolve disputed issues of fact. Rather, theCourt’s responsibility is to decide whether there are triable issues of factthat require resolution by a jury at trial. Consequently, nothing in thisrecitation should be taken as a factual finding, or as indicating any opinionon the part of the Court with respect to the merits of plaintiff’s claims. Insketching the factual background for this motion, the Court merely indicateswhat the evidence would permit a jury to find, identifying significant disputesin the evidence.
Browne Sanders beganher employment with MSG in November 2000 as a Vice-President of Marketing forthe New York Knickerbockers, a National Basketball Association franchise ownedby MSG. As Vice-President of Marketing, Browne Sanders’s primary responsibilitywas to market the Knicks’ team brand. Browne Sanders wasalso responsible for various facets of the Knicks’ media and communicationsprograms, game presentation, and event management. Browne Sanders washired by Stephen Mills, who was then MSG’s Executive Vice-President forFranchise Operations. Mills was primarily responsible for evaluating Browne Sanders and recommending her for promotions andsalary adjustments. As a Knicks executive, Browne Sanders hadaccess to confidential financial and business proprietary material of MSG.
Whenshe was hired, Browne Sanders signeda copy of MSG’s Confidentiality, Code of Business Conduct and ProprietaryProperty Agreement, which provided that during Sanders employment, may notengage in activities or have personal or financial interests that may impair,or appear to impair, Sanders independence or judgment or otherwise conflictwith her responsibilities to MSG. Browne Sanders alsosigned MSG’s Employee Code of Conduct, which stated that public trust andconfidence are the greatest assets held by MSG. In March 2002, Browne Sanders was promoted to Senior Vice-President,Marketing Business Operations. Her responsibilities expanded to include, amongother things, oversight of the marketing and business operations budget.
BrowneSanders remained in that position until hertermination in January 2006. Her total compensation for just over five years ofemployment with the Knicks exceeded $1,100,000. In her new role, plaintiffcontinued to report to Mills, who had by then been promoted to President, MSGSports Team Operations. Thomas was hired as President of Basketball Operationsfor the Knicks in December 2003. In that position, Thomas oversaw the coaches,players, and other Knicks personnel at the MSG Training Center located inTarrytown, New York. In addition, Thomas had an office at MSG’s headquarters inManhattan where Browne Sandersworked.
Although Thomas did notsupervise Browne Sanders,Browne Sanders was responsible for keeping Thomasinformed about business developments related to the team that Browne Sanders had a dotted line relationship with him.Until 2004, Browne Sandersreceived positive performance reviews and numerous bonuses. Browne Sanders also had a good working relationshipwith Kevin Layden, the Knicks’ President and General Manager until histermination in December 2003. However. beginning in 2004, Browne Sanders began experiencing difficulties at work.In March 2004, Browne Sanders metwith Mills and Thomas to discuss a conflict between Thomas and Browne Sanders over their respective jobresponsibilities.
Browne Sanders alsobegan encountering conflict with other colleagues, including Frank Murphy,then-Senior Vice-President of Basketball Operations. IssuesSuch a jury also could conclude that therelationship between Browne Sanders andThomas became increasingly strained during 2005. Browne Sanders accuses Thomas of engaging in unwantedsexual advances; Thomas denies some of the alleged incidents and challengesBrowne Sanders’s interpretation of others. For purposes of this motion, thedetails of the disputed incidents need not be rehearsed. The flavor of theallegations is sufficiently conveyed by two alleged episodes. In May 2005,Browne Sanders told Peter Olsen, an MSG consultant andan advisor to Thomas, that Thomas had said that he loved her and requested thatshe “go off site” with him.
Thomas disputes this charge. Thomasacknowledges, however, that in December 2005, at a Knicks game, he attempted tokiss Browne Sanders on thecheek; when Browne Sanders pulledaway, Thomas replied, “no love today?” (). During 2005 as well,Browne Sanders raised questions about alleged sexualharassment of other female employees by Knicks personnel. In June 2005, Browne Sanders informed her supervisee Dan Gladstonethat one of Gladstone’s subordinates, Hassan Gonsalves, had been accused ofmaking harassing and derogatory comments towards female Knicks employees andabout Browne Sanders. WhenGladstone questioned Stephon Marbury, a Knicks player and Gonsalves’s cousin,about Browne Sanders’s allegations, Marbury bluntly expressed his hostility toBrowne Sanders.
When Browne Sandersinformed John Moran, MSG’s Vice-President of Employee Relations, aboutGonsalves’s and Marbury’s behavior, Gonsalves was terminated, but Marbury wasnot questioned about Browne Sanders’s allegations. Towards the end of 2005,Browne Sanders began investigating and documenting theallegedly inappropriate conduct of Thomas and Marbury. In November 2005, BrowneSanders spoke to Karen Buchholz, a KnicksVice-President who reported to Browne Sanders, aboutBuchholz’s interactions with Thomas and Marbury, and requested that Buchholzsend her an e-mail documenting those interactions. Around the same time, BrowneSanders asked Gladstone to document his accountof his conversations with Marbury. In December 2005, Browne Sanders asked another Knicks employee, GaryWinkler, to send her an e-mail documenting his conversations with Petra Pope,the head of the Knicks’ dance team, concerning allegations that were denied byThomas that he had made inappropriate comments to Pope in 2004 (). Browne Sanders also asked other members of her staff todocument incidents of sexual harassment they witnessed at work. Matters came toa head in December 2005 and January 2006.
On December 2 and 4, Browne Sanders, accompanied by Buchholz, met with anattorney to discuss Browne Sanders’s sexual harassment complaint. On December22, counsel for Browne Sanders metwith counsel for MSG. At that meeting, Browne Sanders’s counsel informed MSG ofBrowne Sanders’s sexual harassment complaint. The attorneys agreed to”attempt to expedite a negotiated, good faith resolution of Ms. Browne Sanders’ claims. HoldingsOn January 24, 2006, Browne Sanders filed the complaint that initiated thepresent action, alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of hersex and terminated in retaliation for her sexual harassment complaint inviolation of federal, state, and city law. That same day, defense counselissued press statements on behalf of their clients.
MSG’s and Dolan’s counselstated that Browne Sanders’s claim was baseless, and that Browne Sanders was terminated due to her deficient workperformance. Thomas’s counsel stated that Browne Sanders’s claims were an obviousattempt to get a large sum of money from MSG by taking advantage of Thomas’s celebritystatus (). Browne Sandersresponded in a statement denying defendants’ accusations, which she read at apress conference on January 25, 2006. That same day, Thomas held a pressconference in which he again denied Browne Sanders’s claims and asserted thatBrowne Sanders was trying to use him as a pawn for her financialgain. Thomas held another press conference in which he again denied BrowneSanders’s claims. During the discovery, MSG sought andobtained copies of Browne Sanders’s federal, New York, and New Jersey tax returnsfor 2000-2005 (). The 2001-2004 returns originally produced to MSG includedSchedule C deductions for the expenses of a direct marketing business, totalingapproximately $73,000.
However, Browne Sandersshortly thereafter produced amended federal and state tax returns for 2003 and2004. The 2003 and 2004 tax returns had been amended the day after BrowneSanders’s initial production to remove the Schedule C deductions. The amendmentresulted in the elimination of approximately $20,000 of business deductions for2003 and 2004. Browne Sandersasserts that she did not amend her 2001 and 2002 tax returns on the advice ofher current accountant, who informed her that there is a three-year ruling oflimitations for amending tax returns ().
Since her termination, Browne Sanders claims that she has applied for jobswith “many potential employers” in a wide variety of businesses. Atthe time the motions were filed, Browne Sanders wasworking as an independent contractor for a non-profit organization. Sanders’annual compensation was less than half of what she earned at MSG.
According toBrowne Sanders, since her termination, she has beenrepeatedly questioned about the circumstances of her dismissal from MSG byprospective employers and recruiters, some of whom have referred to herdismissal from MSG as a reason for her rejection from employment. As a resultof her alleged injury, Browne Sanders seeksto recover approximately $600,000 in back pay, $9,762,000 in front pay andreputation damages through age 65, an unspecified amount for lost pensionpayments and stock options, and reinstatement (). ReasoningPlaintiff alleges that defendants engaged inunlawful conduct by discriminating against her on the basis of her sex,subjecting her to sexual harassment, and retaliating against her for her sexualharassment charge. None of the parties move for judgment as a matter of law onplaintiff’s sex discrimination or sexual harassment claims. Thus, the merits ofthose claims will be determined by a jury at trial, and the Court will notdiscuss their merits except to the extent that a discussion of the underlyingclaims is necessary to determination of the pending motions. However, bothplaintiff and defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment as a matterof law on certain of plaintiff’s other claims.
Specifically, plaintiff arguesthat she is entitled to judgment on her retaliation claim, while defendantThomas argues that he is entitled to judgment on that same claim insofar as itis asserted against him. In addition, all three defendants allege that certainof plaintiff’s claims for damages are barred as a matter of law. Thus, thepending motions require the Court to consider the evidence bearing onplaintiff’s retaliation and damages claims. However, as stated above, suchconsideration of the merits does not constitute fact-finding by the Court.
Instead, the following discussion only identifies significant factual disputeswhich preclude the granting of judgment as a matter of law. The Court’sresponsibility at this juncture is only to identify the factual disputescontained in the record; it will be the jury’s responsibility to resolve thosedisputes at trial. The Court’s responsibility is to determine if there is agenuine issue to be tried, and not to resolve disputed issues of fact. TheCourt must draw all reasonable inferences and resolve all ambiguities in the nonmovingparty’s favor, and construe the facts in the light most favorable to thenonmoving party.
If, however the evidence is merely colorable, or is notsignificantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. The party seekingsummary judgment bears the burden of showing that no genuine factual disputeexists. Once the moving party has made a showing that there are no genuineissues of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to raisetriable issues of fact. A genuine issue for trial exists if, based on therecord as a whole, a reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmovingparty. If there is any evidence in the record from which a reasonable inferencecould be drawn in favor of the opposing party, summary judgment is improper.