A former captain of the Rangers' ice skating cheerleaders filed a lawsuit yesterday in federal court in Manhattan, accusing Madison Square Garden officials of sexually harassing her and of firing her after she told other skaters that she had been solicited for sex by a Rangers executive.
The accusations in the lawsuit, filed by Courtney Prince, 25, of Manhattan, were similar to administrative charges she filed in March against Madison Square Garden with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After an investigation, the staff of the commission ruled on Aug. 31 that there was probable cause to believe that Prince's accusations were true.
The Garden, in a statement yesterday, said that the accusations in the lawsuit were unfounded, and that it has a "comprehensive work environment policy" that allows "employees to raise any concerns at any time to all levels of management."
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offered in August to conciliate the case, and it recommended that the Garden pay Prince $800,000 in damages. The commission eventually determined that it could not resolve the case through conciliation, Kathleen Peratis, Prince's lawyer, said.
In her lawsuit, Prince seeks unspecified damages from the Garden and two executives.
Prince was hired in 2002 for the Rangers City Skaters, who perform between periods of games. She became the skaters' captain last year. She said that her supervisor, Ryan Halkett, the arena's director of game presentation, had often praised her work.
She contended that Garden managers socialized with the skaters, and warned them not to fraternize with players. Garden managers told her which skaters they liked, Prince said, and which skaters they wanted to attend postgame events. Prince also said the managers had bought alcoholic drinks for the women, some of whom were under 21. One Garden official, Prince said, called the skaters on the first team in the 2002-3 season "the ugliest women" in the National Hockey League.
In an interview, Prince said that Halkett had criticized the looks of the skaters whom she had hired, telling her that some had to lose weight, change their hairstyles or "stuff their bras" to be more alluring.
Last Dec. 22, after a game in which the skaters were highlighted more than ever and Prince was interviewed between periods on the MSG Network, the skaters attended a party at a bar near the Garden called Lobby. Later, some skaters went to a restaurant for dinner. When the other skaters left before her, Prince said, Jason Vogel, a public relations manager for the Rangers, and another man who was not named in the suit offered her a ride.
They took a taxi, she said, but instead of going uptown to the restaurant, they went to Daddy-O's, a bar in Greenwich Village. Vogel and the other man then made sexual advances toward her, Prince said. Once, as she turned to avoid being kissed by the second man, Prince said, Vogel stuck his tongue "down her throat."
In the interview, Prince said that the men had asked her if she liked oral sex and that Vogel had asked if she had ever engaged in a sexual threesome. She said Vogel had said he wanted to have sex with other skaters. She also said that the two men "wanted to go into the bathroom and have sex with her," according to the lawsuit. She rejected Vogel, she said, then left the bar, with Vogel trailing her, and rode off in a cab.
Several days later, before the next Rangers' game, Prince said in the lawsuit that she had told some of the skaters about the incident and warned them to be cautious in their dealings with management. Over the next month, she said, she kept working, and Halkett asked her if she might remain as the group's captain for five more years.
But on Jan. 22, she said, she was called to a meeting with Halkett and Jeanie Baumgartner, the Rangers' vice president for marketing. She said Baumgartner accused her of calling Garden managers "sexual predators" and called her a "pathological liar.''
After the meeting, Prince said, she was never called to skate again, and in March, she filed the complaint with the E.E.O.C.
Prince contended that Garden officials sought disparaging information about her during interviews of other skaters. She accused the Garden of offering some skaters perquisites, like foreign travel, in exchange for negative information about her. Most of the skaters now shun her, she said.
The Garden, along with Vogel and Halkett, the two individual executives named in the lawsuit, declined to comment specifically on Prince's accusations.