Breaking down Thomas trial (cont'd)
Posted: Monday September 24, 2007 8:31PM; Updated: Tuesday October 2, 2007 12:35PM
3) Under oath, Thomas opined that it would be worse for a "white man [to call] a black woman a bitch" than for an African-American male to do the same. How might that statement influence the trial?
Thomas apparently made the statement to insinuate that, because of values in the African-American community, at least as Thomas perceives them, Sanders should have been less offended by the misbehavior of African-American male employees than if white male employees had engaged in identical behavior.
This argument is weak and probably counter-productive. First, drawing racial distinctions between sexual harassers does not advance any legal theory relating to sexual harassment. The law does not forgive a sexual harasser because he believed that, given his race, ethnicity, or some other demographic quality, his victim should have been more understanding of his behavior. Instead, the law commands that, irrespective of race, ethnicity etc., a sexual harasser will not harass and will, perhaps, seek counseling or other treatment to correct his problem. Put more bluntly, the problem with sexual harassment isn't with the victim -- it's with the victimizer.
Second, the argument might offend nearly everyone. Principally, it runs the risk of stereotyping African-American males and females as somehow more accepting of intra-racial sexual harassment, a proposition that, I surmise, would offend most African-American males and females.
4) If Thomas is found liable for sexual harassment, will the NBA punish him?
If Thomas is found liable, there would be compelling reasons for the NBA to discipline him, but also compelling reasons to not discipline him.
Let's first consider the "pro-discipline him" argument. Without a doubt, commissioner David Stern would be outraged by any NBA executive who sexually harasses employees. An NBA executive not only works for a team; he represents the league and its underlying values.
Stern's outrage would only seem heightened by context: he has recently sought to enhance the NBA's image and particularly how fans and media regard the maturity of those affiliated with the league. That very desire, among others, motivated the league, with the consent of the NBPA, to issue a dress code and to collectively-bargain an elevated age requirement for the NBA draft. While the merits of those policies can certainly be debated, they likely placated a number of dissatisfied fans and media.
Recent events, however, suggest that the NBA needs to look beyond the locker room for sources of immaturity. Between the controversies surrounding this year's All-Star Game in Las Vegas, the Tim Donaghy gambling scandal, and now the Knicks' sexual harassment lawsuit, Stern is seemingly poised to implement heightened ethical requirements for league officials. A good place to start may be in NBA front offices and, if so, a liable Thomas would seem particularly vulnerable to a stiff sanction.