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Lawyers say Winters not target

The discriminaton lawsuits against the USF women's basketball coach and USF are aimed at the school, say attorneys for the ex-players suing.


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 23, 2000

TAMPA -- As two more federal lawsuits were filed Wednesday against suspended South Florida women's basketball coach Jerry Ann Winters, lawyers for the plaintiffs reiterated that the legal action is aimed at the institution, not the individual.

Former players Charmain Leslie and LaToya Ward filed federal civil lawsuits against Winters and USF claiming Winters discriminated against them because they are black and violated their civil rights.

Since August, eight black former players have filed suits against Winters and the university alleging discrimination. Former assistant coach Tara Gibson, who is black, has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"There is a harm (done) that has to be corrected," said attorney Sonia C. Lawson, a lawyer for Leslie and Ward. "The University of South Florida needs to acknowledge that they ignored these young women. Let us be clear here. This is a violation of the Constitution. It is not just (USF) doing something that is distasteful. They have broken the law."

Winters has been suspended with pay since Oct. 25 after an investigation by the university's Equal Opportunity Affairs office determined that former player Dione Smith was dismissed from the team because she participated in a discrimination complaint. Winters is appealing.

Leslie, who played at USF from 1998-2000, alleges in her suit that she didn't receive medical treatment like similarly injured white players did and that Winters treated black athletes more harshly than whites, often forcing her to practice when sick or injured, even when a doctor's note advised against it.

Winters has declined repeated requests to be interviewed by the Times but has steadfastly maintained that the players are disgruntled about a lack of playing time.

Leslie, 23, said she is disturbed by that allegation.

"The day before (the lawsuit was to be filed) I changed some things in it because they weren't true or I didn't know for a fact that it happened," Leslie said. "If I'm out to get her or if I'm lying, why would I take out some things that would help the case? I am not disgruntled."

Ward, who transferred from Cal State Northridge in 1997, says she was promised a scholarship but was told when she arrived on campus that she was not "worthy" of one.

Winters' attorney, John Goldsmith, denies Ward was promised a scholarship.

Ward said she was heavily recruited by Winters and former assistants and "treated like royalty" on her recruiting visit. She said things were different during the year she spent as a walk-on.

"You could tell by the body language and the verbals (Winters) would speak, you just knew she disliked certain players on the team and they were all black," Ward said. "She would find a flaw in their game and overstress the issue. She would try to degrade them on a daily basis. ... She's not aware of what she's doing, and she needs to be made aware that she just can't do this to people."

Tampa attorney Jonathan L. Alpert, who represents all eight players, produced more documents Wednesday that indicate USF officials were aware of the players' complaints for at least two years before Smith filed the first lawsuit.

An internal review by former assistant athletic director Hiram Green in April determined there was a re-occurring theme of racism in the women's basketball office. Alpert also released documents that show Equal Opportunity Affairs coordinator Camille Blake, assistant vice president of human resources Edouard Piou, Green and athletic director Paul Griffin had extensive discussions by phone and letters concerning the players' allegations and the handling of them.

Alpert said the lawsuits are not about retaliation against Winters.

"Firing of the coach is not what these young ladies want," Alpert said. "Clearly they (USF) need to establish institutionally where neither this coach nor any other coach can do this again. ... They made a decision to keep this coach after all of this was brought to their attention. Why fire her now? We're not suggesting she be fired. What we're suggesting is that they institute the procedures to make sure this doesn't happen again. Perhaps this coach shouldn't be allowed to coach anymore and should be given another job.

"If this university thinks it is going to ride this out, it is mistaken. A cash settlement isn't going to do it. We're talking about racial justice."

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