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Penn State’s Discriminatory Coach Reprimanded

Pennsylvania State University has reprimanded women’s basketball coach Rene Portland for her discrimination against former player Jennifer Harris. Harris brought a federal lawsuit against Portland last December for repeatedly questioning Harris about her sexual orientation, encouraging the other players to ostracize her, and finally dismissing her at the end of the 2004-2005 season. In a move that gay rights advocacy groups say doesn’t go far enough, Penn State fined Portland $10,000, mandated that she participate in a “diversity development course,” and promised to terminate her upon further violation of the University’s anti-discrimination policy, according to USA Today.

Rene Portland’s controversial coaching practices first made a stir in 1986, when she told the Chicago Sun-Times that she does not permit lesbians on her team. Portland used her prejudice as a recruiting tactic, claiming to allay prospective team members’ fears of an atmosphere promoting homosexuality, the Sun-Times reported. After Portland made another inflammatory statement, this time in a 1991 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Penn State revised its anti-discrimination policy to explicitly forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Portland maintains that she dismissed Harris because she lacked commitment to the team, but in her second and final season at Penn State, Harris was the Lady Lion’s third highest scorer, and played in every single game.

Sources:

USA Today 4/18/06; Chicago Sun-Times 6/16/86; Associated Press 3/21/91; New York Times 12/20/1991

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