Five former FAMU women's basketball players have filed a lawsuit claiming they were discriminated against because of two of the players’ sexual orientation, according to court records.
The five women — Kennedy Burks, Deann Whitlow, London Holland, Mariah Reynolds and Jessica Njoku — filed the suit in Leon County Circuit Court on March 20. They are seeking a trial, according to the lawsuit.
In addition, they claim that the university was aware of the situation and allowed the discrimination to continue during their time playing for FAMU (2015-2017) and did not take any action.
According to the lawsuit, only two of the five players are homosexual, but the other three continued to get the same verbal abusive treatment for associating with the two women and were later removed from the team.
Whitlow claims that because she did not distance herself from the two women, she faced extreme retaliation, was bullied, called derogatory names, and was forced to participate in extra conditioning drills — even though she experienced breathing problems that the coaching staff knew about.
She also alleges that when she refused to distance herself from the two gay players, coaches decided that she would participate in only limited physical activities in practice and was the only scholarship player left on campus while the rest of the team traveled to away games.
As stated by the women, coach LeDawn Gibson would call the players "whores" in practice and never apologized for it.
“Ultimately, the coaches' strong opposition to gays resulted in a pattern and practice of bullying, harassment, ridicule and the untimely termination of all of the Plaintiff's athletic scholarship,” the lawsuit states.
However, the bullying did not just stem from the head coach. According to the lawsuit, Burks was instructed to put the balls up after practice and when teammate Dymonee Royal tried to help, Gibson and an assistant coach stopped her and said, "Let the dummy get it."
The women all claim that Gibson told them she did not like "gays" and had "no use" for athletes who "associated" with them. That attitude allegedly allowed Gibson to coach by intimidation during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Gibson, who was terminated as the head women’s basketball coach in early March, did not respond to requests for comment.
Tallahassee attorney Marie Mattox is representing the five former players in the lawsuit, which names the university’s Board of Trustees on five counts: gender and sexual orientation, negligence, sexual orientation discrimination, and breach of contract.
Associate athletic director Vaughn Wilson said that the department does not commit on legal matters.