WNBA president Laurel J. Richie has told The Associated Press that she was surprised by the announcement that Isiah Thomas had been hired as president of the New York Liberty and that the league was not given much advance notice.
Thomas' hiring was "first and foremost a team decision, but there's ultimate responsibility with the league, and that rests in my office," she said in a phone interview with the AP on Wednesday night.
The WNBA is reviewing the hiring of Thomas, who previously was the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit.
In 2007, when Thomas was coaching the New York Knicks, former team executive Anucha Browne Sanders alleged he sexually harassed her. Although Thomas maintained his innocence, a jury found that Madison Square Garden, owner of the team, improperly fired her for complaining about the unwanted advances. The jury also ruled that she was entitled to $11.6 million in damages from MSG and chairman James Dolan.
In December 2007, MSG and Dolan settled the case with Browne Sanders for $11.5 million.
"I was not liable or personally held for anything, so the jury found no findings," Thomas told ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike earlier Wednesday. "... Anyone who's vetted this has looked at it, and has come out and found, as the jury found there were no findings in terms of Isiah Thomas."
Kevin Mintzer, an attorney who worked for Browne Sanders on the case, called Thomas' claim "factually incorrect" because the jury found Thomas to have aided and abetted in creating a hostile work environment. Part of the settlement ($6 million) was awarded because of that environment.
The NBA Hall of Famer also was given an ownership stake in the Liberty earlier this week, but the WNBA Board of Governors has to approve Thomas' ownership application.
"The announcement came out [Tuesday]; we're less than 48 hours" into the process, Richie said. "I'd say both on behalf of the league and personally, I'm in the process of gathering information. Ultimately, this is a decision in terms of ownership that is a board-level decision. I will participate in that discussion."
Richie said the league hasn't received the completed application yet.
"Once we receive that application, our vetting process will begin," Richie said. "We have read the reports in the news, and that will be a part of our vetting process, absolutely. We have an annual meeting in December, and the rest of our meetings are ad hoc meetings. This would be an ad hoc meeting."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.