Penn State coach accuses group of exploiting lawsuit

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State women's basketball coach Rene Portland accused a former player and a national gay rights group of waging a negative media campaign that tarnished her and the reputation of the program.

Portland said in a statement Thursday that it was "time to fight back" against the accusations Jennifer Harris and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"I'm not going to sit silently on the sidelines anymore and let this former player and this national organization spread damaging allegations while they attempt to exploit this case for their own agendas," Portland said in the two-page statement issued through a spokesman.

Portland said she was responding to media coverage after a court-ordered mediation session earlier this week failed to produce a settlement in Harris' lawsuit against the coach.

Harris contends in the suit that Portland discriminated against her because the longtime coach perceived her to be a lesbian. The suit alleges that Portland tried to force Harris, who says she is not gay, to leave the team.

Portland said Harris' accusations were the first formal complaints against her in her 26 years at Penn State and described her herself as a tough, demanding coach.

"I am not perfect, but I'm a fair and honest person who cares deeply about my players, our basketball program and Penn State University," Portland said.

Harris' lawyers accused Portland of "humiliating, berating and ostracizing" the former player, who transferred to James Madison following the 2004-05 season.

"We solely have an agenda to protect our client, Jennifer, and other young women from this type of harmful discrimination that they have been subject to as part of the Penn State Lady Lion basketball team," said Harris' attorney, Karen Doering of the lesbian rights group.

Portland has firmly denied the accusations and said in the statement that Harris' departure was related only to basketball issues.

"The sexual orientation or race of any player or person is irrelevant to me," she said.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, however, said the statement contradicts the results of an internal investigation by Penn State, which last month concluded that Portland had violated university policy in her treatment of Harris.

The university fined Portland $10,000, ordered her to take professional development "devoted to diversity and inclusiveness" and said she would be dismissed for any future
violation of the school's nondiscrimination policy.