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Skater's Garden Torment

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS - Teri Thompson and Michael O'Keeffe

Courtney Prince never saw herself as a role model for women wronged in the workplace.

In fact, she says she once disdained women who tried to turn their office troubles into a federal offense.

But that was before Prince found herself in the grip of what she describes as a pervasive atmosphere of sexual harassment at Madison Square Garden. Before, she says, a Rangers public relations executive and a New York Times reporter covering the team suggested they have a threesome in a bathroom at a Greenwich Village bar, then tried to kiss her.

Before a guest of the team, a professional golfer, pressed his sexually aroused body against her at a team celebration. Before MSG officials fired her after she warned other skaters to watch out for certain men in the organization.

Prince, the 27-year-old former captain of the Ranger City Dancers, says she wasn't surprised when 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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Prince's attorney, Kathleen Peratis, says there are significant hurdles to sexual harassment cases: "There is the risk that this will have a negative impact on her future in terms of finding work again. The scrutiny of your life becomes impossible to pass unless you've been living under a rock.

"The expense of going forward is immense. And the emotional stress and trauma of having your life on the line for weeks, months and years is too much for most people."

Prince 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.

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 rejected the deal and Prince filed her suit in federal court in New York.

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Prince says her battle with the Garden hasn't been easy. Prince says the Garden told the other skaters, many of them longtime friends of Prince's from childhood, not to talk to her. She says Garden officials disparaged her and asked the skaters about her sex life, looking for dirt.

"They shot first and asked questions later," Peratis says.