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