Potera-Haskins testifies about Title IX gender discrimination and retaliation at Montana State University

Robin Potera-Haskins was the coach of the women’s basketball team at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman for three seasons between 2001 and 2004. She led the team to a share of the Big Sky Conference championships in her first two seasons at MSU, in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003. Potera-Haskins testified in a 3-day bench trial in U.S. District Court in Butte, Montana, to support her claim of retaliation for reporting gender discrimination in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1974, which prohibits institutions from discriminating between men’s and women’s athletics and which prohibits employers from firing employees who report Title IX violations.

Potera-Haskins testified that MSU athletic director Peter Fields pressured her to put his daughter on the team and grant the daughter a full scholarship, even though the daughter played for a NCAA Division II school and was not deemed qualified by the coach to play for MSU, which is a NCAA Division I school. Potera-Haskins complained to the MSU administration about how Fields was undermining the women’s team to benefit his daughter.  She also complained how MSU guaranteed $25,000 to visiting men’s teams to play in holiday tournaments, but no money was available to women’s teams to sponsor similar tournaments. Potera-Haskins alleged school was simply discriminating between the men’s and women’s teams, in violation Title IX. Soon after Potera-Haskins complained about the interference and undermining of the women’s basketball program from the athletic director, the MSU administration convened a special review committee which found that student athlete welfare on the team was “healthy and positive” and confirmed that Potera-Haskins and her coaching staff felt pressured to place the athletic director’s daughter on the team and grant her a full scholarship. Following these findings in favor of Potera-Haskins, the athletic director (Peter Fields), his daughter (Briana Fields) and others close to the athletic director lobbied and pressured the MSU administration to terminate the coach in early 2004. Following this pressure by Fields MSU reconvened the review committee which met with student athletes without the coach’s knowledge and recommended that the coach be fired. Notably, MSU failed to give coach Potera-Haskins any specifics of alleged problems on the team after the committee reconvened in early 2004, MSU deliberately concealed from the coach any details and MSU instructed the coach not to talk to her own student athletes about alleged problems on the team. A federal judge has now heard testimony from Potera-Haskins, MSU officials and a few of the women players and one of the assistant coaches from Potera-Haskins’ team.

Former MSU men’s basketball coach Mick Durham also testified. Potera-Haskins testified how she was bullied into putting Briana Fields on her team. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that prior to making her Title IX complaints MSU’s associate athletic director had given Potera-Haskins an "exceptional" evaluation.

On Saturday, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported on Potera-Haskins’ testimony that she was kept in the dark about how the special review panel met with the players. Meanwhile, University witnesses had to explain discrepancies between the testimony of some of their witnesses and the coaching records. Potera-Haskins related how the men’s team was allowed to bump her women’s team out of the good gym, and how she was micromanaged in a way men’s coaches were not. Her claim of a disparity of treatment between the men’s and women’s teams found support in the testimony of former men’s coach Mick Durham. Claims by MSU that Potera-Haskins was overly critical and too hard on the players were denied by both Potera-Haskins and one of her assistant coaches, who denied the coach mistreated any player and testified that Potera-Haskins was both professional and standard in the way she coached.

David Colapinto, General Counsel of the National Whistleblowers Center, is one of the attorneys for Robin Potera-Haskins. Prior to trial, the federal judge in Montana dismissed some of the coach’s claims and remedies, ruled that Potera-Haskins could not recover any monetary damages and refused to give her a jury trial. I predict that whatever this judge decides, there will likely be an appeal. 

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