Settlement Reached in Penn State Basketball Homophobia Case
Jen Harris, a former basketball player for Pennsylvania State University, has reached an "amicable" settlement of a discrimination lawsuit filed against the university, its athletic director, and its women's basketball coach, Rene Portland. Harris, who was represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), had charged that Portland repeatedly inquired about her sexual orientation, pressured her to appear more "feminine," told other players not to associate with her and abruptly dismissed her from the team in 2005. She also alleged discrimination based on race (she is African American), gender, sexual orientation, and invasion of privacy.
Some were disappointed by the careful, no-blame language of the settlement's announcement. Portland, who has allegedly discouraged lesbian players from joining the Penn State team, continued to dispute Harris' allegations and deny liability. Also, despite Penn State's conclusion after an internal investigation that Portland had created a "hostile, intimidating and offensive climate," the coach received just a fine of $10,000 and was allowed to keep her position. Homophobia-in-sports expert Pat Griffin, however, has suggested that one read between the lines of the confidential agreement, and take note of NCLR lawyer Karen Doering's separate statement that Penn State is taking additional steps to "further protect all students who have experienced discriminatory treatment" at the university.
"What is important, I think, is that Jen Harris and her lawyers from the NCLR are happy with the settlement," wrote Griffin on the Women's Sports Foundation's website. "Did the university agree to a substantial financial settlement...? Probably. Did they agree to more careful oversight of Portland's practices, and regular [anti-homophobia] training for all staff? I think that is what Doering's quote is telling us."
Media Resources: Ms. National Dispatches, Winter 2006; National Center for Lesbian Rights; Women's Sports Foundation