Madison Square Garden is a den of sexual harassment, according to the former “Rangers City Skater” who is suing the World’s Most Famous Arena, and heaven help the woman who complains about it.
Courtney Prince, once the captain of the Rangers’ cheerleading squad, the NHL’s version of the Knicks City Dancers, says she is hardly surprised that former Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders filed a lawsuit last week accusing Knicks President Isiah Thomas and MSG of sexual harassment and discrimination.
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“This is a company that doesn’t have respect for women,” the former captain of the Rangers City Skaters said. “Anucha Browne Sanders is at the top of the organization and I’m a lowly cheerleader at the bottom. I have to believe there’s something going on in the middle, too. I now see how polluted it is.”
Prince, 27, filed her lawsuit in October 2004 after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled there was probable cause to believe she was sexually harassed, and then was fired after she alerted other skaters to her treatment. Madison Square Garden; Ryan Halkett, its director of event presentation, and Vogel are named as defendants.
The EEOC recommended a settlement in August 2004 that would have required the Garden to implement sexual harassment training and adopt an anti-discrimination policy, as well as pay Prince up to $800,000 in lost salary, attorney fees and compensatory damages. MSG officials, however, rejected the deal and Prince filed her suit in Federal Court in New York.
According to Prince’s attorney, Kathleen Peratis, the Garden is attempting an expensive, drawn out legal battle against her client. “They have deep pockets but so do we,” Peratis says. Two of Prince’s claims – retaliation by the Garden and assault and battery by Vogel – will go forward, while others are pending a ruling on a second motion to dismiss.
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The beginning of the end of her career at the Garden came on Dec. 22, 2003. The skaters had gotten a lot of ice time between periods of that night’s game. Prince had been interviewed on the MSG television network.
To celebrate, the skaters and MSG executives went to a bar near the Garden called Lobby. A professional golfer who is a big Rangers fan – Prince and her attorneys Peratis and Tammy Marzigliano declined to identify him – was the team’s honored guest that night and joined the group at the bar. “They kept pushing him out on the dance floor,” Prince said. “He came up to me and started grinding against me. I squealed and ran off.”
Prince alleges she told Vogel the golfer was aroused. Vogel replied that he would be aroused, too, “if I were dancing with you.” The skaters later decided to go to dinner, and as they were hailing cabs, Prince returned to the bar to wait for a woman she thought was still in the bathroom. When they returned, she found herself alone with Vogel and a New York Times reporter.
But instead of taking Prince to the uptown restaurant where the other skaters were dining, Vogel and The Times reporter took her to a West Village bar called Daddy-O’s. The two men then told Prince they wanted to take her into the bathroom for a threesome. Prince tried to ignore the remark.
When The Times reporter, who is not identified in the lawsuit, then asked Prince if he could kiss her, she says she said “no” and turned to Vogel. The Rangers’ PR man put his open mouth and tongue on her mouth. She ran from the bar and grabbed a cab. Vogel followed, saying, “Let’s get a hotel.”
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Prince says she had always received high performance reviews from her superiors, but about a month after the incident with Vogel, she noticed a change at the Garden. Her superiors were no longer returning her phone calls. Then she was called into a meeting with Halkett and Vice President of Marketing Jeanie Baumgartner. She said Baumgartner accused her of disparaging MSG executives and calling Halkett a “sexual predator.”
“It became very clear to me that they did not want to hear anything I said,” Prince said. “They called me a pathological liar. They told me all the girls hated me.” Prince’s voice wavers as she talks about the ordeal.
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“I went into this being anti-feminist and I used to judge women who claim sexual harassment the same way I’m sure people are judging me,” says Prince, who now freelances in marketing and design. “But it’s been worth it.”