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Lawsuit names Winters, Griffin

Among other things, it claims an investigation of the USF women's basketball coach was covered up by the school's AD.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, DARRELL FRY and ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


TAMPA -- A federal lawsuit filed Thursday contends University of South Florida athletic director Paul Griffin tried to "shut down" an internal racial discrimination investigation of women's basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters.

The lawsuit, filed in Tampa by former USF point guard Dione Smith, charges that the 1999 internal investigation concluded Winters racially discriminated against black players, and that Griffin ordered the investigation halted to avoid negative publicity.

To cover up the investigation's findings, Griffin ordered a memo drafted that said there was "no probable cause" that Winters committed racial discrimination, the suit claims.

In an interview with the Times on Wednesday, Griffin characterized the internal investigation as a "review" but wouldn't reveal the outcome or say if any actions were taken as a result. He also said he had no firsthand knowledge of player allegations of racial discrimination.

"No player has ever come to me; no player has ever written to me; no player has ever called me (about racial discrimination claims)," Griffin said.

Asked about the lawsuit and the allegations against him, Griffin refused comment: "I am not at liberty to comment on a matter that is under investigation."

The lawsuit's major claims are:

Winters and Griffin violated Smith's civil rights, and Winters discriminated against black players, creating a racially hostile environment.

Winters and the university unlawfully dismissed Smith from the team.

The university failed to allow examination of documents related to the internal review in violation of the state's public records law.

"We are very displeased that a public institution needs to be brought kicking and objecting into the 21st century where it should obey the civil rights laws and the public records laws of the United States and the state of Florida," Jonathan L. Alpert, Smith's attorney, said. "We are basically trying to achieve justice and get this pattern stopped. This is not just a lawsuit against an individual, because what's taking place at the university could not happen without institutional support, and that institutional support has to stop."

The lawsuit also claims Winters often used the "N" word to describe blacks when talking to her white assistant coaches. And it charges Winters frowned on a player's lesbian lifestyle, telling the player her hairstyle was offensive and she should not cut her hair anymore. The lawsuit also said Winters tried to bully players into keeping their racial discrimination complaints quiet.

After learning of the athletic department's investigation last year, Winters called a team meeting, according to the lawsuit, and told everyone: "Next time anybody goes outside of this program to complain about problems with me, or with this program, you will suffer the consequences. You can take that however you want, you can take that as a threat, but I am letting you know this is how it is going to be."

The lawsuit claims Winters discriminated by generally showing favoritism toward the white players; by segregating players during meals, practices and with hotel room assignments on road trips; by reducing the number of blacks on the team over the past few seasons; and by always requiring black players to host black recruits.

In an interview with the Times on Wednesday, Winters denied the allegations, saying they are being brought by disgruntled former players. At least two other former USF players and a former USF assistant coach have made similar claims against Winters.

On Thursday, former USF assistant Ron Gathright said Winters did not discriminate against players, and echoed Winters' claims that Smith and the others are disgruntled.

"I'm really shocked," Gathright said of the allegations against Winters.

Smith was dismissed in April because she complained and objected to Winters' discriminatory behavior, according to the lawsuit. Winters, however, contends Smith was let go because she disrespected Winters and questioned her job security.

The lawsuit also claims the university has yet to allow Alpert and Smith access to public records related to the university's internal review of the discrimination allegations. Alpert requested documents from the university on Aug. 9, according to the suit.

The Hillsborough County chapter of the NAACP has been involved in the case, according to its president, Sam Horton. After the NAACP and Alpert unsuccessfully tried to resolve the matter out of court, Alpert said Smith proceeded with the lawsuit.

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