Ex-Penn State player says Portland discriminated

Updated: November 4, 2005, 6:16 PM ET
Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- A former Penn State women's basketball player started a discrimination complaint against Nittany Lions coach Rene Portland, filing paperwork Friday claiming that she was harassed by the coach to change her appearance because she was not "feminine enough."

The attorney for Jennifer Harris cited sex and race as the basis for charges of "discrimination, retaliation and harassment" in paperwork filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

Harris, who is black, said in the filings that she told Portland that she was not comfortable in changing her appearance, and that Portland then "treated me differently from other team members" and "threatened and humiliated me" to try get Harris to quit or take a leave of absence.

Besides the university, Portland and athletic director Tim Curley were named in the complaint.

A spokeswoman for Portland, who is white, said Friday that the coach had not seen the complaint and declined to comment. A spokesman for Curley also declined comment.

Harris left Penn State after last season and transferred to James Madison. Portland, in response to Harris' initial allegations last month, said in a statement that accusations that the former player's departure involved discrimination on the basis of her perceived sexual orientation were "completely and utterly untrue."

University spokesman Tysen Kendig said he was not aware of any prior complaints by Harris related to race. "It wouldn't surprise me that it hadn't come up before, because we have had very little information on the issue."

Lawyers for the two sides have talked, but the school said they have not been allowed to talk to Harris herself and that is delaying an internal investigation.

Harris has said Portland thought she was gay, but the former Penn State player says she is not.

In the filing, Harris said the "pattern of ongoing harassment" started in early 2004, and that other black players were forced off the team or harassed "more harshly than other players because of their race and what coach Portland perceived to be their nonconformity to out-of-date gender stereotypes."

Portland has declined to discuss the issue, referring questions to her statement last month and saying she was concentrating on preparing for the upcoming season.

In her statement, Portland said Harris was no longer with the team "because of her performance and attitude in relation to basketball" and because she "did not meet the level of commitment" required of players.

The paperwork filed by Harris' attorneys starts the process to open an official complaint with the state, said agency spokeswoman Laura Treaster.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press