Lawsuit alleges discrimination at Penn State

Updated: December 21, 2005, 7:30 PM ET
Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- A former Penn State women's basketball player filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against coach Rene Portland on Wednesday.

The lawsuit by former player Jennifer Harris filed in federal district court in Harrisburg accused Portland of discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. The university and athletic director Tim Curley were also named as defendants.

Harris, who is black, said in the filing that Portland repeatedly asked her to change her appearance to look more "feminine."

"In pursuing her discriminatory policy -- known as 'no drinking, no drugs, no lesbians' -- Ms. Portland has particularly targeted players who are African-American," Harris' attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, according to a copy of the filing provided by one of her lawyers, Karen Doering, of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Harris' attorneys have said that while the player is not gay, she was perceived to be gay by her former coach.

A spokeswoman for Portland declined comment Wednesday night, saying the coach had not seen the lawsuit. In earlier statements, Portland has maintained that Harris' departure was purely a basketball-related decision and firmly denied that any racial or gender discrimination was involved.

"My career has been built on treating all Lady Lion players with respect," she said in a statement last month after Harris filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. "I will continue to do so."

Portland has said that Harris was disrespectful toward coaches and teammates and alleged that her work ethic was "unsatisfactory and detrimental to the success of the team."

University spokesman Tysen Kendig also declined comment Wednesday, saying he was not aware that a lawsuit had been filed. Penn State announced an internal investigation after Harris first made the accusations in October.

Doering said that Harris filed the federal lawsuit in part because of the statute of limitations on some of her accusations, which span at least a couple of years, and because they had not heard from Portland, who is not being represented by university attorneys.

Harris alleged in the lawsuit that Portland "harassed and targeted" other black athletes and that the coach had told team members not to associate with some players.

Harris transferred after the 2004-5 season after finishing as the team's third-leading scorer at 10.4 points. She is redshirting at James Madison.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press