Friday, January 25, 2008

Another Retaliation Case of Note

Last September, the federal district court in Montana denied Montana State University's motion for summary judgment on a Title IX retaliation suit filed by former head women's basketball coach, Robin Potera-Haskins. Her case is now heading for trial, but is unscheduled as of now.

Potera-Haskins headed the women's basketball program in Bozeman from 2001 until 2004, when the University president gave her the choice between resignation and termination. In her complaint, Potera-Haskins maintains that she was retaliated against in this manner for complaining about the inequitable conditions for the women's program relative to the men's in areas including coaching salaries and benefits, access to facilities, and the university's efforts to secure corporate sponsors and otherwise promote the team. She also alleges that she was singled out for this treatment because she resisted pressure from Athletic Director Peter Fields to offer a spot on the team to a friend of his who lacked the talent required of Division I program.

Potera-Haskins turned a losing MSU program around, posting three winning seasons and two conference championships during her tenure as head coach. Neverthess, MSU defends Potera-Haskins was terminated because of poor performance as a coach and "mistreatment and abuse suffered by the student athletes under her leadership." However, the judge acknowledged that this is a factual dispute properly decided by a jury rather than on summary judgment.
Though this post is belated (the judge's decision's recent publication in the F. Supp. 2d finally brought it to my attention), I am eager to mention it because it helps illustrate the trend of Title IX retaliation cases we have seen in the wake of Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education, the 2005 Supreme Court decision affirming that Title IX also protects coaches (and others) who complain about inequitable treatment of women's sports. Potera-Haskins is another member of the "team" of female coaches and athletic department administrators who have brought retaliation cases against their colleges or universities -- a list that includes Eve Atkinson, Lindy Vivas, Karen Moe Humphreys, Diane Milutinovich, Stacy Johnson-Klein, Laurel Wartluft, Deena Deardurff Schmidt, and Jaye Flood.

Decision is: Potera-Haskins v. Gamble, 519 F. Supp. 2d 1110 (D. Mont. 2007).