Penn State coach, ex-player reach settlement

Updated: February 6, 2007, 12:19 PM ET
Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- A former Penn State women's basketball player on Monday settled a discrimination lawsuit against longtime coach Rene Portland, more than a year after claiming that Portland had a "no lesbian" policy on her team.

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Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon and the lawyer for former player Jennifer Harris said the agreement called for settlement terms to remain confidential.

"I'm proud to have brought this case, and I'm thrilled that we have been able to resolve it," Harris said in a statement.

In a December 2005 lawsuit, Harris accused Portland of "humiliating, berating and ostracizing" her, and claimed she was told that she needed to look "more feminine." The suit alleged that Portland tried to force Harris, who says she is not gay, to leave the team.

Harris, Portland and Penn State athletics director Tim Curley, another defendant, said in a joint statement Monday that they had reached "an amicable settlement."

"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," the statement said. "Ms. Harris has agreed to permanently withdraw and end her legal actions against all parties."

Harris, in documents filed in federal court in Harrisburg last May, claimed Portland had a policy of "no drinking, no drugs, no lesbians."

The complaint showed Harris initially seeking from Portland and the university compensatory damages "in excess of $50,000" for each of 22 allegations, along with unspecified punitive damages and other conditions.

Harris' lawyer, Karen Doering of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the university had taken additional steps "to further protect the interest of student-athletes."

"We believe these steps will help all students who have experienced discriminatory treatment at Penn State," Doering said.

Penn State athletics spokesman Jeff Nelson said Portland and Curley would have no comment beyond the joint statement.

Portland, head coach at Penn State since 1980, had been dogged by questions about the lawsuit since Harris first made her allegations in October 2005. Portland rarely talks publicly about the case, and she has offered firm denials when she does comment.

An investigation by the university resulted in Portland being reprimanded last April and threatened with dismissal for any future violation of the school's discrimination policy. She also was fined $10,000 and ordered to take professional development "devoted to diversity and inclusiveness."

Portland disagreed with the school's findings.

Harris, who is black, also alleged racial discrimination by Portland, who is white. The school's investigation found no evidence to support that accusation.

Portland has been criticized in the past for comments regarding homosexuality. In 1986, she told the Chicago Sun-Times that she didn't allow lesbians to play on her team. In a 1991 story in The Philadelphia Inquirer, several former players, recruits and colleagues of Portland said the coach did not tolerate homosexuality among her players.

More recently, several former players or people affiliated with the team have told various news outlets of conversations with Portland in which they alleged the coach made comments indicating bias against lesbians.

Harris left Penn State after the 2004-05 season and transferred to James Madison. She underwent ankle surgery last month and is likely out for the rest of this season.

Portland this season became the ninth coach in Division I women's basketball to win 600 games at one school.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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