Even though the National Hockey League is locked out for the moment, the New York Rangers continue to make news – all of it bad.
On Monday, Courtney Prince, a founding member and captain of the Rangers’ City Skaters cheerleading squad, filed suit against Cablevision Systems, Corp., owner of Madison Square Garden, alleging she was sexually harassed by a member of the team’s public-relations staff.
Prince’s suit, brought in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, followed a determination by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (New York District Office) that supported her claim of harassment. Last August, the EEOC ruled in Prince’s favor and recommended that MSG conduct supervised employee and management training on sexual harassment and introduce an effective anti-harassment policy. It also advised MSG to pay Prince damages of $800,000.
MSG declined to respond either to the EEOC recommendations for conciliation or to pay Prince the cash award.
“I was fired for trying to protect my co-workers from the unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances of certain managers at Madison Square Garden, the very people to whom I reported and depended on for my job,” the 29-year-old Prince said, in a statement. “The Garden viewed my allegation not as a problem to be investigated and corrected, but as a challenge to its authority to be punished, and silenced.
“This experience has been unspeakably saddening for me. However, I am greatly encouraged that the EEOC, after a thorough investigation, has confirmed the merits of my claims of harassment and retaliation. If this case does nothing else, it should at least force Madison Square Garden and its owners to think twice before ever treating any other employee as callously as they have treated me.”
MSG released a statement Monday, calling the allegations “unfounded” and suggested the company “will proceed accordingly.”
In her complaint, Prince described a culture in which MSG management mandated that “skaters look sexually alluring.” Although they were only compensated for game appearances, City Skaters were expected to attend frequent post-game parties and other events to socialize with MSG clients and vendors. Prince alleges that Garden’s management staff regularly purchased alcohol for skaters under 21 years old at these gatherings.
The complaint focuses on one such post-game party on Dec. 22, 2003, which began at a bar near Madison Square Garden. Prince alleged that a member of MSG’s public relations staff accompanied her to a second bar, where the MSG executive “made sexual advances … solicited her for sex, and told her that he wanted to have sex with other women on the team,” according to the complaint. “He tried to kiss her and put his tongue down her throat.”
Both the executive and another man present at the invitation from MSG, “told Prince they wanted to into the bathroom and have sex with her. Prince rebuffed them and made it clear she was not interested in their advances.”
Prince, who was long accustomed to sexual catcalls and solicitations by Ranger fans, said she felt the best way to handle the incident was to warn her fellow skaters of the manager’s behavior. She “cautioned them to be as circumspect with management as they had been instructed by MSG to be with the hockey players,” the complaint notes. According to Ms. Prince, several skaters were aware of the manager’s reputation.
In addition to asking that MSG make Prince whole for lost wages and benefits, the complaint sought compensatory and punitive damages against the company and the individual defendants, “sufficient to punish and deter continuation of their unlawful employment practices.” Prince also asked that Cablevision implement new policies and training along the lines of the procedures recommended by the EEOC.
“Although her complaint focuses on a specific episode at one company, Ms. Prince’s case unfortunately sheds light on a broader problem of how the sports and entertainment industries treat women employees, especially performers, as the private preserve of middle-aged male managers,” said Kathleen Peratis, an employment lawyer with Outten and Golden LLP, which represents Prince.
“We’re particularly disappointed that MSG chose to ignore the EEOC’s explicit recommendations for conciliation,” Ms. Peratis added. “The Commission’s findings on harassment against Ms. Prince were unequivocal and the remedies proposed straightforward and constructive. It is astounding to us that Cablevision does not have sufficient protective measures in place to police inappropriate behavior. Now, as a result of its defiance, MSG will have to go to court to defend its workplace tolerance of sexual harassment.”