Lawsuit progresses against Penn state women’s basketball coach
Angela D'Amboise | May 17, 2006
STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania — A law suit against allegedly homophobic Penn State women’s basket ball coach Rene Portland hit a speed bump in a failed mediation Monday, but lawyers for the National Center for Lesbian Rights say they are prepared to go forward with their federal discrimination suit against the coach.
The NCLR is representing Jennifer Harris, a star player for the team who is heterosexual but says she was harassed and eventually kicked off the team by Portland, who accused her of being a lesbian.
Gay.com reported that Portland continues to deny the charges, but her history with the team implies a profound distaste toward the LGBT community.
A 1986 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times quotes Portland as saying that drugs, alcohol and lesbians were forbidden on her teams, according to Gay.com. In 1991, a Philadelphia Inquirer expose on Portland led Penn State to institute an anti sexual-orientation discrimination policy.
Still, since Harris has filed her suit, a number of former players have come forward with claims that Portland’s pattern of abuse caused many lesbians and suspected lesbians to drop off the team or lie about their sexual orientation.
Harris was recruited to play at Penn State for the 2003 season after landing an All-American title and several other awards. Almost immediately, Harris says Portland began questioning her about her sex life, asking if she dated women and warning her to stay away from another teammate who appeared gay.
Harris says the pressure continued well into her sophomore year, when Portland ordered her to dress and act more feminine. At the end of that season, Harris was kicked off the team and forced to transfer to another school.
“I told her I thought she was kicking me out of school because she thought I was gay," Harris told the Boston Globe. “She said, ‘You know how I feel about that. I'm not going to change. I'm still going to be the coach at Penn State and you're still going to be gone.’”
Harris and the NCLR filed suit against Portland, Penn State and athletic director Tim Curley in December, 2005. In April investigation by the school concluded that Portland did discriminate against Harris, but the punishment consisted only of a reprimand and a $10,000 fine, according to Gay.com.
“We are disappointed but completely undaunted,” Karen Doering, an attorney with the NCLR, said of Monday’s disappointing court-ordered mediation, “and we will be moving forward with litigation.” A trial is scheduled to begin in 2007. – Issued by Gay Link Content
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