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Settlement in bias lawsuit against Penn State basketball coach

Jennifer Harris, a former guard for Penn State’s women’s basketball team, alleged that Rene Portland, the highly successful coach of the Lady Lions, on multiple occasions, questioned Harris about her sexual orientation, and threatened to kick Harris off the Lady Lions if she found out Harris that was a lesbian (she is not).

Harris, represented by The National Center for Lesbian Rights, has agreed to settle the discrimination lawsuit, has withdrawn her complaint. Had they not reached agreement with Portland and Penn State, the matter would have gone to trial this spring.

Among the charges — despite Penn State adding sexual orientation to the school’s non-discrimination policy in 1991 — the lawsuit said that “believing Jennifer was a lesbian, Ms. Portland tried to force her to leave the team, humiliating, berating and ostracizing her.”

In an obviously stiff press release — complimenting Portland and Penn State — The National Center for Lesbian Rights announced the settlement this way…see after the flip.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is pleased to announce that the parties have reached an amicable settlement of the actions filed by Jennifer E. Harris against The Pennsylvania State University; Penn State’s athletic director, Timothy Curley; and Penn State’s women’s basketball coach, Rene Portland. The terms of the settlement agreement are confidential.

Ms. Harris, a former Penn State women’s basketball player, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Ms. Harris also filed Complaints with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

Penn State, Mr. Curley and Coach Portland have disputed Ms. Harris’ allegations and have denied any liability with respect to the complaints filed against them. Ms. Harris has agreed to permanently withdraw and end her legal actions against all parties.

…Coach Portland is one of the most successful women’s basketball coaches in the United States, collecting seven conference championships and eight conference tournament titles in her career. She is the sixth winningest NCAA Division I coach of all-time with nearly 700 career wins. Coach Portland recently earned her 600th win as head coach of the Lady Lions, a record of wins at a single university achieved by only 8 other Division I coaches. She is also a four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year and a two-time WBCA National Coach of the Year. She has served as president of the WBCA and has led the U.S. Junior National Team to silver and gold medals. Throughout her career, Coach Portland has been a tireless advocate and major spokesperson for equality in women’s sports under Title IX.

Penn State has a longstanding commitment to create and maintain an academic and work environment that fosters respect for others and is free of discrimination of any kind, including harassment. The University is a national leader with respect to its policies in this regard and intends to continue to play a leadership role.

Gee, ya think that publicly stroking Portland and Penn State was part of the settlement deal? Must have been a fair amount of scratch received to make this one go away.

As I noted last April when the school lightly reprimanded the winning coach:

The investigation into anti-lesbian bias by Rene Portland of the Penn State’s womens basketball program has found she did indeed violate the diversity policy of the school, creating a hostile environment for Jennifer Harris, a six-foot guard on the Lady Lions basketball team from 2003 to 2005.

What did the school do to Portland? She got a letter of reprimand and a fine. Do you think the results would have been different if her team consistently sucked?

Portland disagreed with the finding, sayng the school’s investigation was flawed. In 2005, two other players came forward — one telling her story to ESPN — to say that Portland made no bones about it that lesbians are not welcome on her team.

Courtney Wicks, who played on the Lady Lions from 1996 – 1997, and Cindy Davies who played for Penn State in 1980, say that they also heard Portland make accusations about lesbians.

…On ESPN Wicks said that Portland’s dislike of lesbians was clear. “She made it seem like if you have lesbians on your team at some point it will get into your locker room,” said Wicks, who transferred from Penn State after a year and a half.

Cindy Davies, who acknowledges a lesbian affair with the team manager said she quit the team and the university after Portland confronted her with suspicions about the relationship and told her she would continue to investigat[e] if she proved the affair she would make the information public. Davies said that she became so depressed she considered committing suicide.

Some other reminders about how things really went down:
Lesbian-baiting Penn State basketball coach ‘reprimanded’
Gay-baiting coach needs to zip it
More lesbian-baiting charges against Penn State basketball coach

Hat tip, MXM.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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