UTAH TECH UNIVERSITY'S STUDENT NEWS SOURCE | June 18, 2024

DSU settles discrimination lawsuit with two former women’s basketball players

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Two former members of the Dixie State University women’s basketball team won $100,000 after settling a federal discrimination lawsuit with the university. 

Nanea Woods and Austen Harris filed the lawsuit in 2014 after complaining former head coach Catherria Turner discriminated against them based on their supposed sexual orientation, religious views and race. Turner was fired in November 2014 after less than two years as coach.  

Woods and Harris both received $50,000 from the settlement and are responsible for paying their own legal fees. Woods, who has since left DSU to study at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California, said she is pleased with the outcome of the settlement.

“The motivation of the suit was to bring personal closure and resolve for me,” Woods said. “I needed people to know my pain and have someone agree with me that my experience and treatment was simply wrong. This lawsuit did that for me.”

DSU accepted the settlement instead of choosing to fight it in court, “resolving the dispute at no cost to the university and with no admission of liability on the university’s part,” according to DSU’s official statement on the lawsuit.

According to the statement, “the state and the university were confident of their position before the court,” but decided it would be cheaper to settle the lawsuit instead of continuing to fight the allegations in court. The cost of the settlement was paid by DSU’s insurance provider, the Utah Office of Risk Management. 

Woods said she felt failed by DSU administration and the women’s basketball coaching staff. 


Catherria Turner, former head coach of Dixie State University women’s basketball, coaches a game in 2014. Turner is the subject of a discrimination lawsuit recently settled by DSU and two former members of the women’s basketball team. Dixie Sun News file photo. 


Allegations

According to Woods and Harris’ official complaint filed in a federal court, Turner singled out women on the team based on their race and accused some members of the team of being in lesbian relationships.  

Turner disciplined African-American players differently than white players, according to the complaint. Turner also illegally disclosed personal information about Woods’ interactions with the team to Avalon Apartments in an effort to get Woods evicted from her apartment, according to the complaint. 

The complaint states Turner required teammates to pray before each game and say “hallelujah” and “amen” during team meetings. She also forced several members of the team to stay on a bus with no food or water while she and the rest of the team attended church services, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges Turner was fixated on the players’ sexual orientation. She accused Harris of dating several members of the team, including Woods — something Harris denied. 

Harris and her parents complained about Turner’s actions to Athletic Director Jason Boothe and Dean of Students Del Beatty, who, according to the complaint, both ignored her complaints for a month, according to the lawsuit. 

“As a result, Coach Turner continued to discriminate and harass Harris, Woods and the remaining African-American players, culminating in the dismissal of all of the African-American players from the team throughout the spring of 2014,” the complaint reads. 

Cynthia Kimball Davis, DSU’s Title IX coordinator at the time, conducted an investigation into some of the complaints against Turner raised by the members of the team in May 2014. Although the investigator interviewed Harris, Woods was not allowed to be interviewed as part of the investigation, according to the complaint.

The investigator concluded the investigation was not “able to definitely repudiate or rule out the allegations [of Discrimination and Sexual Harassment].”

Turner was officially fired six months later, and her assistant coach, Jenny Thigpin, was named head coach. 

“I left [DSU] in such anguish with feelings of betrayal and hatred that I could not recall my time there without bursting into tears and fits of anger all because I felt powerless,” Woods said. “I felt diminished and abused.”

Woods said her last year at DSU ended with pain and regret after playing under Turner.

“We need to question why coaches feel that they have supreme power with no fear of repercussion for their actions,” Woods said. “It’s not OK to expect athletes to show up for weights, practice, classes, study hall and additional shots required on personal time … to where that athlete struggles to find time to even eat or that athlete fears retribution if you complain to administration again.”

Boothe, who is listed as a defendant on the lawsuit for his participation in being Turner’s superior, declined to comment on the settlement.

“There was obviously some personalities on the team that just didn’t mix,” Boothe said in October 2014.