Thursday, February 12, 2009

Player Sues Coach for Heterosexual Bias

Via Helen at Women's Hoops Blog, I learned about this recently filed lawsuit against Central Michigan State and its women's basketball coach, Sue Guevara. The plaintiff, former player Brooke Heike, alleges that Guevara, who was hired before Heike's sophomore season, dismissed her from the team and terminated her scholarship because she is heterosexual. She also argues that the university did not give her a fair and unbiased hearing when she appealed the coach's decision to the athletics department.

As the basis for her bias claim, Heike alleges that Guevara repeatedly told her she was not "her type" of player. The complaint continues:
Based on defendant Guevara’s comments to her both when they were alone and when they were in front of others (such as her teammates), plaintiff believed that defendant Guevara did not consider plaintiff to be her “type” of person because plaintiff identified herself as heterosexual and wore make-up (which defendant Guevara deemed to be an unacceptable heterosexual behavior) and would not identify herself as homosexual or give up heterosexual behavior.
That's really it in terms of allegation that support Guevara' treatment of her was motivated by her heterosexual orientation. It is possible that Guevara and the athletic department was mean or unfair to Heike, as she alleges in greater detail throughout the complaint. But to succeed on her discrimination claims against Guevara (filed under the Equal Protection Clause and the Michigan Civil Rights Act) there needs to be a basis for her claim that she was targeted because of a protected classification -- sexual orientation. (Heike also vaguely argues that she suffered discrimination because of her race; she is, according to the complaint, of Caucasian and Native American descent).

I admit that I reacted skeptically to this case before I looked at Heike's complaint, as women in sport usually have more to gain by conforming to normative femininity than not. So feel free to take this observation with a grain of salt. But "not my type of player" seems like a pretty meager basis for the charge that Guevara discriminated against her because of heterosexual orientation. In Jennifer Harris's lawsuit against Penn State coach Rene Portland, by contrast, Harris claimed that Portland was vocal about her no-lesbian policy and enlisted the help of players and others to try to catch Harris in violation of it. This is not to say that discrimination needs to be as overt as this in order to be actionable, but it does underscore the absence of some form of corroboration. There seems to be nothing but a hunch or general understanding that "not my type" is code for "not lesbian." Guevara's prohibition on makeup is interesting (and also arguably analogous to Portland's opposition to Harris's cornrows) but does not, in my opinion, does not corroborate the charge that Guevara was motivated by bias against heterosexuals.

Update: I just read Pat Griffin's excellent post about this case. She points out that the charges against Guevara trade in stereotypes of the predatory lesbian, and in that way, are harmful to lesbian coaches everywhere. Definitely worth reading in full.