Montana State prevails in lawsuit

HELENA, Mont. -- Montana State University was right to fire former women's basketball coach Robin Potera-Haskins in March 2004 and may not have done so soon enough, a federal judge has ruled.

Potera-Haskins filed a wrongful discharge lawsuit against Montana State, but most of her claims were dismissed with the exception of a sexual discrimination claim that the women's basketball program was given inferior treatment compared to the men's program.

During a four-day bench trial before U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon in Butte in April, former players testified that Potera-Haskins was verbally abusive, that she lied to them and displayed erratic behavior. Six players left the team or the university after the 2002-03 season.

"Plaintiff's significant deficiencies, shortcomings and lack of qualifications to serve as head women's basketball coach at MSU were clearly articulated by substantial credible evidence grounded in personal experience by former players," Haddon wrote in a ruling handed down Tuesday.

"We're pleased to have the decision of the court, which affirms the appropriateness of the actions taken in this case," said Leslie Taylor, MSU legal counsel.

Potera-Haskins said she plans to appeal.

"We respect the decision of the court, however we feel the decision is not indicative of the events that occurred while I was the head coach at Montana State University," Potera-Haskins said Wednesday. "I upheld all NCAA rules and standards, followed all MSU's policies and procedures, held my standards with the highest level of integrity and character and won two consecutive NCAA Division I conference co-championships while I was there -- the most anyone has ever won at Montana State."

She also questioned Haddon's decision to hold a bench trial rather than a jury trial.

During the trial, former player Jinnifer Jeresek testified that she turned down a U.S. Senate internship to play her senior season at MSU after Potera-Haskins promised to help her obtain a $25,000 law school scholarship that Jeresek later learned did not exist.

Potera-Haskins denied Jeresek's scholarship story and testified that athletic director Peter Fields forced her to put his daughter on the team and give her a full scholarship, which she argued undermined the women's program in violation of Title IX.

"Regrettably, but unequivocally, the court has found plaintiff not to be a creditable witness on the significant issues of the case," Haddon wrote. "I have concluded ... that the entirety of plaintiff's Title IX complaints were undertaken to draw attention from or to blunt the impact of the extremely serious and harmful consequences of her conduct as head women's basketball coach.

"Not only was the university justified in terminating plaintiff, it may have been derelict in meeting its responsibilities if it had not done so," Haddon wrote. "If any criticism of what it did could be said to be justified, it would be that action should have been taken sooner than it was."

During the trial, Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., announced it had named Potera-Haskins its head women's basketball coach.