Evergreen women’s basketball coach Jennifer Schooler resigned midway through her third season. Schooler and The Evergreen State College have been named in a lawsuit by two students seeking $1 million in damages for “racial and sexual orientation discrimination.” Courtesy photo Evergreen Sports Information
Evergreen women’s basketball coach Jennifer Schooler resigned midway through her third season. Schooler and The Evergreen State College have been named in a lawsuit by two students seeking $1 million in damages for “racial and sexual orientation discrimination.” Courtesy photo Evergreen Sports Information

Education

2 students seek $1 million in discrimination lawsuit against Evergreen and former coach

By Lisa Pemberton

lpemberton@theolympian.com

October 20, 2017 12:54 PM

UPDATED October 21, 2017 04:52 PM

Two students have filed a lawsuit against The Evergreen State College and its former women’s basketball coach Jennifer Schooler.

The 15-page complaint for damages was filed by ShaMarica D. Scott and Linda A. Wilson, both of Olympia, on Oct. 13 in U.S District Court’s Western Washington district in Tacoma.

On June 12, the women’s attorney, Ada Wong with AKW Law of Mountlake Terrace, filed a tort claim, which is a prerequisite for suing the state, with the state Department of Enterprise Services Office of Risk Management. It stated that the women are claiming damages of $500,000 each.

According to the latest court documents, Scott and Wilson are seeking damages for “intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and racial and sexual orientation discrimination.”

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Schooler, who took over the women’s basketball program at Evergreen in 2014, cited personal reasons when she resigned last December.

When asked for a comment on the lawsuit, college spokesman Zach Powers said: “The college conducted an investigation and took appropriate action.”

According to the claim, Scott was a walk-on player on the women’s basketball team during the 2014-15 school year and “endured racially based discrimination, epithets, intimidation and public humiliation” from Schooler.

It states that the coach used the term “ghetto” and employed race-baiting tactics to motivate her team with statements such as “If you think that white students feel intimidated by black players, they don’t.”

It also states that on multiple occasions Schooler harassed Scott about the woman she was dating and made offensive remarks about her Gay Pride T-shirt.

The court documents include a copy of the college’s 33-page report from an internal investigation into Scott’s complaints by the college’s affirmative action and equal opportunity officer Lorie Mastin.

In the May 27, 2016 report, Mastin wrote that her investigation found that Schooler more likely than not violated the college’s non-discrimination policy with her use of “racial derogatory language.” However, Mastin’s investigation did not find sex-based discrimination and harassment related to Scott’s other claims.

In the report, Schooler responded to the claims about her use of “ghetto,” saying she did so to describe an unacceptable form of play, specifically “an uncoached, streetball type of play.”

Schooler said the phrase was used “during a game — in the heat of battle or in the heat of a game, but it was never intended to be about race. I’m proud of the diversity on the team.”

The coach added: “I did not define it ahead of saying it, so I could see how they might have interpreted it differently.”

In a written statement submitted later for the report, Schooler wrote that she became more educated on the term and how it made her players feel, and her intentions were never to make them feel uncomfortable.

Students target president's office for protest at The Evergreen State College

After weeks of brewing racial tension on campus, hundreds of students at The Evergreen State College in Olympia protested against the college administration and demanded change on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.

Lisa Pemberton lpemberton@theolympian.com

As for the Gay Pride shirt, Schooler said she didn’t make derogatory remarks about it.

“Any conversations about the shirt were initiated by her teammates and herself,” Schooler wrote. “…We had no idea there was a problem in regards to the shirt. I told her I admired that she was so comfortable with herself.”

Schooler cut Scott from the team in May 2015. She told Mastin that Scott was frequently late to practice, and exhibited poor body language.

Schooler said she didn’t make fun of Scott or talk inappropriately about her relationship.

“I went out of my way to include her as we have with former players who have been married,” Schooler wrote.

Scott’s first contact with Mastin was on Feb. 1, 2016, when she said she wanted to report discrimination and verbal abuse by Schooler. Scott said she and other students of color felt they had to put up with discrimination and abuse to remain on the team, according to Mastin’s report.

The second plaintiff, Wilson, played on the women’s basketball team during the 2015-16 school year. Wilson arrived in the fall of 2015, and due to academic ineligibility was placed on redshirt status, Schooler wrote.

During a November 2015 meeting, Schooler pressured Wilson to hold players who were dating teammates accountable by telling them that their actions negatively affected the entire team, court documents state.

“Defendant Schooler also leveraged Plaintiff Wilson’s tuition waiver and scholarship funding if Wilson did not comply,” the complaint states. “The constant pressure to broadcast details of her teammates’ private lives in exchange for an athletic scholarship or tuition waiver was more than Plaintiff Wilson could handle, leaving her with no choice but to resign from the team.”

The college’s internal investigation into Wilson’s claim found that Schooler’s actions more likely than not violated the college’s non-discrimination and sexual harassment policies.

Schooler “introduced the issue of intra-team dating relationships as a potential pitfall for the team, then sanctioned and enforced a prohibition against those relationships, and expected players to do the same,” Mastin wrote in a Nov. 3, 2016, report. “The effect of the prohibition and its enforcement singled-out and treated same-sex, intra-team dating relationships differently, as compared to other types of relationships that could potentially create pitfalls for the team, and in doing so Coach Schooler discriminated against students on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Wilson first met with Mastin on April 26, 2016, when she reported that she had experienced discrimination and verbal abuse from Schooler. Wilson reported that Schooler “created an atmosphere of significant anxiety” with the enforcement of the no intra-team relationship policy. The conversation was shortly after she quit the basketball team, Mastin’s report states.

Wilson and Scott aren’t the only ones to seek legal damages from the college.

In September, Evergreen reached a $500,000 settlement with Bret Weinstein and his wife Heather Heying, who claimed the college failed to protect them from “repeated provocative and corrosive verbal and written hostility based on race, as well as threats of physical violence,” according to a tort claim filed by the couple in July.

Escalating racial tensions at the public liberal arts college, which serves about 4,000 students at its main Olympia campus, hit the national spotlight last spring. The campus was closed for three days due to death threats, and Evergreen’s graduation ceremony was moved to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma to ensure student safety.

Students called for the firing of faculty member Weinstein, who had criticized the college’s equity plan and its revamped “Day of Absence/Day of Presence” activity, which he described as reverse-racism.

During the protest, some students also called for the firing of Stacy Brown, chief of Police Services. Brown left in August.

Bridges said some students broke the college’s code of conduct during the unrest. Although officials won’t provide the specific number of disciplinary actions related to protests, they have released a more general statistic: There were about 120 incident reports involving 180 students filed during spring and summer quarters, according to college spokeswoman Sandra Kaiser.

Of those, about 80 students were sanctioned, with punishments that ranged from formal warnings and community service to probation and suspension. The students were adjudicated using the student conduct code. The cases weren’t solely related to protests, and college officials would not specify how many student protesters received sanctions.

Kaiser said the college isn’t allowed to specify which codes were broken due to student privacy laws.

 

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton