Ex-Player Files Suit Against Coach

By JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
Updated: December 22, 2005

Jennifer HarrisPENNSYLVANIA—Former Penn State women’s basketball player Jennifer Harris filed a lawsuit against coach Rene Portland on Wednesday.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the law firm of Hangley, Aronchick Segal & Pudlin filed the suit in federal court in Harrisburg on behalf of Harris. Named in the suit were Portland, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and Penn State University.

“My departure from Penn State was very painful,” said Harris in an NCLR news release. “I struggled with whether I should just walk away and try to forget what happened. I finally realized that I could never put this incident behind me.”

Harris has transferred to James Madison and is sitting out this season because of the NCAA transfer rule.

The complaint alleges that Portland repeatedly inquired about Harris’ sexual orientation, pressured her to make her appearance more feminine, targeted Harris and other African-American athletes and eventually told other players not to associate with Harris.

In addition to seeking a minimum of $50,000 in damages, Harris also is asking the court to order Penn State to conduct mandatory non-discrimination training for all athletic department employees and to create new policies to help student-athletes report discrimination without fear of retaliation.

Portland declined comment yesterday because she had not seen the lawsuit, a university spokesperson said. When she receives the document, Portland will have 20 days to respond, according to Harris’ attorney Karen Doering.

“Once Rene Portland receives the papers, we can then start to subpoena former players,” Doering said.