Second Lawsuit Alleges Disparate Treatment of Black Women on University of South Florida Women’s Basketball Team
TAMPA, Fla. A second former player has filed a federal lawsuit claiming racism by the University of South Florida women’s basketball coach. Avia Lee, 23, claims in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court last month that she was dismissed as retaliation after making complaints to university officials about the alleged discrimination. The suit names coach Jerry Ann Winters and the university as defendants. Winters, the team’s coach for four seasons, dismissed Lee from the team after the 1998-99 season for a “bad attitude,” according to the suit. Lee claims Winters treated White and Black players with a double standard. The suit alleges Lee was kicked out of practice for “talking back” to Winters, while on another day the coach apologized to a White player who yelled at her. The allegations come a month after a similar lawsuit was filed by former player Dione Smith, a starter for three seasons whom Winters dismissed from the team in April. Smith alleged Winters often used a racial slur in referring to Blacks, segregated the players on road trips, treated Black players more harshly and separated the players by skin color during practice (see Black Issues, Sept. 14). “Something needs to be done. There is a problem. I don’t understand why people can’t see it,” Lee says. “We’ve been discriminated against because of our skin color, and it’s not right.”Athletic director Paul Griffin says Lee was dismissed from the team because she was academically ineligible to attend the university, a Division I school. Lee completed her college career last season at Division II Lynn University. After Smith’s lawsuit was filed, the university’s president, Dr. Judy Genshaft, hired former Circuit Judge Joseph Hatchett — the first Black to sit on the Florida Supreme Court — to conduct an independent investigation of the racism allegations. Smith’s case also is being investigated by the university’s Equal Opportunity Affairs office. Meanwhile, a former assistant coach, Tara Gibson, filed a complaint last month with the EEOC alleging her one-year contract was not renewed because she is Black. The complaint alleged that “racism was so pervasive and so well known … that the USF administration either knew about it or deliberately turned a blind eye.”University spokesman Harry Battson says that the university would take action if any wrongdoing were substantiated. “If another person has come forward, it doesn’t change the university’s position,” he says. “If there has been wrongdoing, we will address the wrongdoing.”Last year, university officials investigated allegations of racism and concluded that insensitive comments were made often and loosely. Winters was ordered to attend a diversity seminar, and in turn ordered her team to attend it with her. The case was then closed. Attorney Jonathan Alpert, who represents both former players, has accused Griffin of a coverup in the internal review.
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