Court Case: Potera-Haskins v. Gamble, Montana State University, et al.

Case adopted 11/06

Case Update (10/08):
A trial date has been rescheduled for June 29, 2009.

Case History

Robin Potera-Haskins, a former head coach of the women’s basketball program, sued Montana State University-Bozeman for sex discrimination and retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Montana Human Rights Act, and for retaliation for complaining about sex discrimination against the women’s basketball team in violation of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972.

Potera-Haskins was hired as the head coach of the women’s basketball program at Montana State University in April 2001. She transformed the team into a winning program leading them to back to back conference championships and assisting the team in maintaining an average GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Potera-Haskins alleges that from the beginning, she was treated differently from the male coaches in the athletic department. Specifically, she asserts that male coaches were provided with cell phones and cars for their professional and personal use. Potera-Haskins states that she was not provided with a cell phone until well into her first year and did not receive a car until her second year, and then was only given access to it on a part time basis. She also asserts that she was paid approximately 30% less than similarly situated male coaches in base salary and was compensated at a rate significantly less for media-related work.

Throughout her time as head coach, Potera-Haskins advocated for the women’s basketball team. She brought to the attention of senior officials the unequal treatment between men’s and women’s basketball teams including access to sponsorships, weight-training facilities, athletic trainers, and financial resources.

Potera-Haskins also claims that she was given less autonomy over her team then the male coaches. She believes the athletic director interfered with the schedule and structure of practices. In addition, Potera-Haskins alleges that the athletic director pressured Potera-Haskins to place his daughter on the basketball team and provide her with an athletic scholarship even though she lacked the skills and qualifications to play at the Division I level. Potera-Haskins objected, but the athletic director demanded that she do so.

Potera-Haskins took her concerns over the athletic director’s actions to the university president and the vice president of student affairs. She asserts that they took no action in regards to her complaints, but according to Potera-Haskins, they subsequently told her that winning was not a high priority for the women’s basketball team and to lower her expectations. Potera-Haskins argues that such demands would never be made of the male athletic programs. Eventually, she received a formal response from the vice president that the team was “healthy and positive overall” and that the athletic director would no longer interfere with any decisions she made about his daughter. Five weeks later the daughter complained to the vice president about Potera-Haskins, as did the athletic director’s wife. In February 2004, Potera-Haskins claims the university officials considered the complaints without informing Potera-Haskins and decided that she should be terminated. Subsequently she was replaced with a male coach who she believes is less qualified than her.

On July 1, 2005, Potera-Haskins filed a lawsuit against Montana State University-Bozeman in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, Butte Division. On September 28, 2007, Potera-Haskins received a partial victory in her case. Specifically, although the Court dismissed her Title VII claims, it denied summary judgement in favor of Potera-Haskins allowing the Title IX claims to move forward.

A trial date was set for February 1, 2008, but in early December 2008, the district court unexpectedly vacated the trial date without explanation and stated that a new trial date will be set in the future after pre-trial evidentiary motions are heard and ruled upon.

Key Case Issues

Sex discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and retaliation in violation of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972