Because I sit on the board of directors of a state agency, California law requires me to take a sexual harassment seminar. What I learned during a very informative couple of hours is that the harassment line is not always clearly defined. Very often what is alleged as harassment has nothing to do with the intent of the accused, but how the accuser perceived the behavior.
An off-color joke meant to lighten the mood morphs into an insult laced with innuendo; an innocent hug becomes an unwanted advance. Because there is so much gray area, experts recommend that any questionable behavior be documented and if it persists, reported to superiors.
Which leads me to Anucha Brown-Sanders. What genius in the New York Knicks organization thought it a good idea to fire one of the highest-ranking Black women in professional basketball immediately after she leveled charges of sexual harassment?
Brown-Sanders, former senior vice president of marketing and business operations for the Knicks, is suing the team and its parent company, Madison Square Garden, claiming she was fired after she accused team President Isaiah Thomas of engaging in "demeaning and repulsive" behavior. Thomas denies the allegations, insisting Brown-Sanders was fired for poor job performance and that the lawsuit is an attempt to extort money.
In the interest of full disclosure, I know Anucha Brown-Sanders — or at least I used to. Before moving to California, I counted her and her husband among my good friends. I knew her to be charming, outgoing and generous. I also knew her to be rather outspoken. It is not difficult for me to imagine her calling Thomas on boorish conduct.
But as is so often the case, it is not clear that Thomas actually did anything untoward. Friends of Thomas say he could have been misconstrued.
Fair enough. But Brown-Sanders did exactly what the experts recommend: She twice met with a consultant hired by Madison Square Garden and reported Thomas' conduct. Later, she appealed directly to her superiors and was fired soon afterward.
It just looks bad.
It may very well be that Brown-Sanders is overly sensitive and simply misinterpreted Thomas' humor. It is more difficult to argue that she imagined the entire thing or that she is duplicitous and is simply seeking a windfall. The woman I knew loved basketball. The Knicks job was a dream. It is difficult to fathom her tossing a dream career into the garbage for a few dollars.
Equally difficult to conceive is Thomas risking everything by soliciting sex from a co-worker. That said, it is almost certain something happened. Was it harassment? That's for the courts to decide.
Joseph C. Phillips is an actor/writer based in Los Angeles.